Brexit red tape ‘makes it easier for EU nations to import lamb from New Zealand than from Wales’

Burden of paperwork and costs makes many companies' business models unviable, MPs told

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
@andywoodcock
Monday 08 February 2021 14:55
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Related video: UK meat producers struggle to navigate new EU customs checks

New red tape introduced as a result of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal means it is now easier for EU countries to import lamb from New Zealand than from Wales, producers have warned.

Pete Robertson, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation Cymru, said that the iconic Welsh delicacy was one of many hit by additional costs, veterinary inspections and paperwork under post-Brexit trading relations.

And he warned that the changes since the end of the UK's transition out of the EU single market and customs union meant a large part of the principality’s agrifood sector was finding its business models no longer viable.

One meat exporter had seen a £100,000 load of animal carcasses scrapped because a single one had fallen off a hook inside a lorry, while other businesses had seen consignments stopped for having forms filled in with the wrong colour ink, he said.

Meanwhile, a ferry company reported freight volumes at Wales’s principal cargo port Holyhead down by as much as 70 per cent in the first weeks of January and by 50 per cent at the end of the month, as UK exporters give up on sea routes to the Republic of Ireland and Irish companies send trucks direct by boat to France or Belgium rather than use the “land bridge” across Britain to the continent.

The evidence of the impact of Brexit emerged at a hearing of the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee earlier this week.

Mr Robertson told the cross-party panel of MPs that food and drink producers across Wales had experienced unexpected additional bureaucratic burdens from Brexit, even if they felt they were well-prepared for the transition out of the EU single market and customs union on 1 January.

“Deliveries have been stopped because it's blue ink not black ink, export health certificates that don't have stamps in the right place have been halted,” he said.

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“We’ve heard of one particular exporter of meat who sent a whole lot of meat carcasses over to France and one of the carcasses had fallen off the hook. Ordinarily that one carcass would be taken away and the load would have been waved through. On this occasion, the entire load - £100,000 worth of meat - was scrapped.”

Small-scale producers sending parcels as part of a larger consignment in a truck or container were finding a dramatic increase in paperwork and charges, with export health certificates a particular problem, he said.

“One of our members has three stock-keeping units on a lorry,” said Mr Robertson. “Before the deal, it required two pieces of paper, and now it requires 41 pieces of paper. 

“There's lots of costs in lots of different areas. So for example, you'd send a sample from here to Sweden or Finland and it used to cost you £30. It now costs you £85.

"For the SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) sector in Wales, when quite often you're  sending goods that only have a value of £25, that can be quite inhibiting and quite a cost challenge.”

The changes have put Wales’s lamb at a disadvantage compared to rivals from much farther away, he said.

“It's easier to import into the EU New Zealand lamb than it is Welsh lamb,” said Mr Robertson. 

“There'll be 20 times more checks of Welsh lamb going into the EU than there is for New Zealand lamb, because of the mutual recognition of the vet procedures. And actually we use a similar system to the EU system, while in New Zealand they use a different system.”

He warned that difficulties can be expected to increase when grace periods for imports expire in April, bringing similar additional burdens to those experience now by exporters.

“Until that goes through then it's difficult to understand the scale of the impact on the business,” said Mr Robertson. “But clearly the food supply chains will be under pressure for sure.”He said that there were “a lot of businesses in Wales whose viability of their current business model going forward is under threat”, and warned MPs that there was no single “magic bullet” solution which could resolve their difficulties.

Plaid Cymru MP Ben Lake, a member of the committee, called for the UK and EU to restart negotiations to find a way of reducing the non-tariff barriers to trade created by Mr Johnson’s Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

He described the situation outlined by Mr Robertson as “sobering”, adding that it “sadly reflects the problems businesses across Wales are facing when trading with the EU”. 

Mr Lake said: “It’s clear that further negotiations, as allowed under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, are required between the UK and EU with a view to achieve a mutual equivalence agreement to reduce non-tariff barriers.

“The UK government must pursue these issues with urgency if we are to avoid businesses – including farmers, wholesalers, hauliers and fishermen – having to take difficult decisions.”

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