Brexit: Victoria Prentis slams EU over shellfish ban
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And the Shellfish Association of Great Britain (SAGB) has highlighted systematic failures by the Department for Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (Defra), which it says has left it struggling with the post-Brexit reality. In the report ‘Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU’, which has been published today, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee highlights urgent concerns for exporters of highly time-sensitive fresh and live seafood and meat shipments to the EU, especially small- and medium-sized businesses.
‘Dog’s breakfast’ sums it up really
The committee warns new barriers which small seafood and meat export businesses face could render them unviable, and factories and jobs may relocate to the EU.
The issue of shellfish exports has been highly contentious, with EU rules currently preventing the export of untreated goods to the continent – dealing a hammer blow to companies reliant on EU markets in the process.
Mr Percy, chairman of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUFTA), told Express.co.uk: “’Dog’s breakfast’ sums it up really.
“The whole EU Exit with regard to fisheries has been a complete debacle from beginning to end.
“Our negotiators have yet to secure a long term deal with the EU on quotas or with Norway.
“The latter means that the UK’s largest fishing vessel, Kirkella [of UK Fisheries] is unable to fish in their waters as she would have been doing by now in normal times.
“So less fish not more, fewer and more expensive and complex exports, shellfish businesses in disarray, the smaller scale sector entirely shafted at not having the EU fleet removed from our 6-12 mile zone, despite ardent promises to the contrary by the Fisheries Minister.”
SAGB told the committee the problems stemmed from a question asked of the EU by Defra in September 2019 which was “insufficiently detailed, lacked clarity and was based on animal health considerations when the issue concerns food safety”.
Its statement, included in the report, explained: “The EU then replied to it in a way which was open to misinterpretation.
“Industry feels that there has been a lack of understanding of both industry practices and relevant legislation shown throughout the process by DEFRA and this has led directly to the current situation where industry cannot trade.
“Guidance was not sufficiently timely, targeted or joined-up. This has especially impacted smaller businesses, many of whom are handling export red tape for the first time.
“As the case of live bivalve molluscs (LBM) highlighted, Defra should have engaged with exporters more closely, in this case by sharing information it had received from the European Commission allowing the industry to point out that it did not provide the clarity Defra officials thought it did.
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“This resulted in the Government making a mistake in how the Commission would apply the relevant regulations, leading to the industry being compromised when it became clear that exports of LBM from aquaculture in Class B and C water that had not been depurated would be blocked.”
Neither was the EU exempt from criticism, with the statement adding: “We believe that the European Commission could and should have taken a more pragmatic approach to the interpretation of these rules.
“If the Government believes the EU to be legally incorrect, the Government should urgently challenge the European Commission’s stance.”
Explaining the report’s conclusions, chairman Neil Parish, Tory MP for Tiverton and Honiton, said: “We are concerned that in the absence of equivalent checks for imports from the EU to Great Britain, there will be serious long-term repercussions for our producers.
“As it stands, the playing field is not even, and the Government must ensure that the new timetable to introduce import checks is adhered to.
“Even as ‘teething problems’ are sorted, serious barriers remain for British exporters, and it is now imperative that the Government take steps to reduce these.
Luke Pollard MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, also responding to the EFRA report, said: “The cross-party Committee’s report is clear that the industry have been sold out by ministers’ woeful lack of understanding and failure to disclose crucial information from the EU as far back as September 2019.
“The shellfish export crisis has been caused by the Conservatives’ incompetent negotiations with the EU.
“George Eustice must now pursue a common sense solution with the EU to save what is left of our seafood exports, instead of trying to cover up his party’s failure to defend this important British industry.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “The Trade and Cooperation Agreement has allowed us to take back control of our money, borders, laws and waters. It enables us to strike trade deals around the world, to the benefit of agri-food businesses across the UK.
“We are providing the support that businesses need to adapt to our new trading relationship. This includes a £20M SME Brexit Support Fund, dedicated support for fishermen and seafood exporters, tripling the number of official certifiers to meet demand, and developing new digital trade platforms.
“The new timetable for introducing import checks is pragmatic and allows businesses more time to adjust as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
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