Meat processors join seafood Brexit protest amid ‘serious and sustained loss of trade’

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Business Bulletin

The British Meat Processors Association has said it is receiving a growing number of calls from meat companies highlighting the “plethora of problems” they have been experiencing at the borders.

The BMPA said the problems are now causing a “serious and sustained loss of trade with our biggest export partner”.

Processors said alongside seafood, fresh meat is one of the most time critical perishable products. Every hour a lorry load of meat is delayed increases the chance of that order either being reduced in price, cancelled and returned or, in the most severe cases, thrown away and ending up in landfill.

It comes as seafood processors took their protest to London today as £1m a day in exports is being lost and businesses face going bust.

Nick Allen, chief executive of the BMPA said: “One of our members reported on 11 January that he had 6 lorry loads of product [value around £300,000]all waiting for customs clearance into the Republic of Ireland.

“At the time, one of those loads was about to be returned to the processing company after waiting five days for clearance. Drivers have been reporting long delays as they wait for HMRC to process the customs documents.”

 Seafood protesters fined after London Brexit demonstration

He said: “We are calling for the current customs and certification system to be modernised and digitised, as the existing paper-based system is a relic from the last century and simply not fit for purpose. It was never designed to cope with the kind of integrated, just-in-time supply chain we have built up over the last 40 years, and if not fixed quickly it will be the thing that starts to dismantle the European trade British companies have fought so hard to win.”

The association said it is “just teething problems”. While some issues are caused by unfamiliarity with the new “red-tape-heavy” system on both sides of the channel, there are other serious structural problems.

It i claimed these are set to force a “permanent change to how we do – or don’t – trade with the EU.

Chief among them is a paper-based customs system that is now “not fit for purpose”.

An example of how the system is failing British companies is the issue of “groupage”, where small consignments of mixed products grouped into one lrge lorry load.

Seafood processors said are losing £1m a day in exports

Until now over 40% of the British meat industry’s trade with the EU was sent this way. It allowed processors to make smaller, daily deliveries of a wide range of high value, retail-packed goods to multiple EU customers to keep their shelves stocked with the variety of products their customers expect. Groupage is an essential part of this ‘just-in-time’ supply chain.

Nick Allen said: “The new post-Brexit customs system for meat products is convoluted, archaic and badly implemented.

“At best it is causing delays to simple, single-product loads but at worst it has meant that grouped loads are now no longer viable to send. Indeed, some of the UK’s largest haulage firms have already ceased completely taking grouped loads.

“If continental supermarkets are unable to have products delivered the way they need them to be, this trade will simply be lost as EU customers abandon UK suppliers and source product from European processors. Members are already being told by their EU customers that they’ll be looking to Spain and Ireland to buy product from now on.”

It described the current widespread disruption as “the calm before the storm”. 

For the first two weeks of January most companies deliberately cut the trade they do with the EU and Northern Ireland down to a very low level. This was so they could tentatively test out the new system. “But even at these low volumes, there have been catastrophic delays for perishable products”, the association said.

Scotland food and drink industry fury over dismissal by UK Government of woes for exporters

The head of industry body Scotland Food & Drink has flagged the sector’s anger over the UK Government’s dismissal of Brexit-related woes for exporters as “teething problems”.

Following reports of protests by the seafood sector in Westminster this morning over Brexit chaos, James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said: “Anger amongst Scotland’s seafood exporters has been simmering for two weeks now as the door to their most important market has been slammed shut. Many now fear for their survival. 

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