UK exports are not getting ‘special treatment’ from the European Union according to one official
Is the UK getting ‘special treatment’ as a third country from the European Union just because of Brexit?
That was one of the questions asked at last Thursday’s Scottish Affairs Committee heard from representatives of the fishing industry who have closely experienced the difficulties and issues with seafood exports over the past month.
Attending as witnesses from the fishing industry were Jimmy Buchan, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, Elaine Whyte, Executive Secretary of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association and James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink.
Seafood exporters from the United Kingdom are facing a mountain of paperwork when it comes to transporting their product into the European Union and exporters are now seeking a derogation to allow them to adjust to the new border controls.
This has led to many questions, one of which is why Norwegian seafood imports into the EU is not subjected to the same criteria as UK imports are seeing since the end of the transition period in December 2020.
The reason why Norwegian seafood is not subjected to the same criteria is because Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement and is therefore not subjected to the same rules as a third country. It participates in the single market, and most EU laws are made part of Norwegian law. The UK left the EU on 31 December 2020 and ceased to be a contracting party to the EEA Agreement and is now a third country which means the UK is no longer part of the single market.
The UK can no longer export live bivalve molluscs coming from Class B waters that are purified or processed to their EU neighbours and border delays due to red tape and inexperienced border guards have caused the seafood industry to lose an estimated £1 million a day.
This has caused great concern amongst the industry in the UK but the Director-General of DG MARE seemed unconcerned for the fate of the UK seafood industry.
During Wednesday’s Blue Deals Debate webinar called “Brexit and Fisheries: A done deal or unfinished business?” host Chris Davies asked a similar question to the Director-General of DG MARE, Charlina Vitcheva. He questioned whether there could be anyway in which some of the restrictions on seafood could be softened to allow easier access to the EU market.
The Director-General pointed out that the delays and the paperwork were not the fault of the EU but that this was the arrangements put in place by the EU when the UK was a member state, and that the UK seafood industry should have known about the disruption leaving the Single Market would cause for fish exports.
Ms Vitcheva replied:
“Actually, these are things that come into a different area than mine, but honestly, this these are the outcomes of Brexit and this is not because of the deal. This is the simple fact that now at the UK is a third country vis-a-vis with the EU and this is to be accepted that. It is called the teething problems. Yeah, at the beginning it will be harder than afterwards when you know the headaches will be stablished. And I would say that these are not exactly non-tariff barriers these are customs provisions. These are control arrangements. So, this is I would not call it the barrier, these are regulatory requirements which are normal when you have relationship between a customs union and a single market and a third party.
“This is this is very normal, and I have to tell you that it is not unexpected, especially for the providers of fresh seafood. It was not unexpected and the stakeholders on the other side of the channel knew it that all these formalities will undermine the value of the goods that they supply every morning in Britannia. So that was clear because the freshness is counted in hours.
“So, if you have these procedures that add time on your product, then it loses a lot of its value and it was known, it was known up front and it appears much, much more important that as rain than this minus 25, which translates into an increase on the British side.“