The President of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) has put out a clarion call for ’certainty now’ over Brexit
The timescales involved in planning the livestock production cycle and future investment in the meat processing sector demanded nothing less than immediate clarity, Frank Clark told the association’s annual conference in Glasgow.
"Brexit day on March 29, 2019 and December 31, 2020 when the transition period ends are not holiday start dates for Ministers, Gove, Johnson and Davis. These are actually the days when the hard work begins.
"We are going to be entering a far more competitive global marketplace than we have been in for the last 45 years. We can gain more than we lose as an industry but it just will not happen unless we have certainty now.”
His hopes were instantly dashed however.
Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord Duncan of Springbank said there was no chance of ’certainty now’.
There would be no outright winners and negotiations would carry on over the next 12 months until the eleventh hour.
“The mills grind very slowly in the EU,” he added.
In the meantime Lord Duncan, a former MEP, suggested the onus was on the meat industry to lay out what it wanted the end result to look like.
“Michael Gove’s Command Paper will appear soon but it will be about England so you need to ask Scottish Government for what you want,” he said.
In fact the SAMW requests had largely been outlined in Mr Clark’s speech.
At the top was an impassioned call for measures to reverse the continuing decline in livestock numbers. It was having a ’crippling effect’ on the red meat industry, the conference heard.
Mr Clark, who is sales director of McIntosh Donald at Portlethen said: “The reality of livestock farming in Scotland is that we are not currently ready to face the unrelenting heat of international competition.
"It would be a mistake to expect anything else but tough competition from New Zealand and other exporting countries. Nobody is going to give up hard won market share just because we turn up waving a Union Jack or a Saltire.”
Lord Duncan reminded processors and wholesalers that 75 per cent of their market was internal within the UK and the priority had to be to make that market work without obstruction.
"The future of the 18 per cent of your sales which go to the EU will be settled through negotiation and I imagine that common sense will prevail. As to global trade the UK has more embassies around the world than anyone else and they are a powerful tool.”
Any Brexit related lack of non-UK labour has the potential to seriously damage the capacity of the red meat processing sector and it ability to supply home and export markets.
Most estimates show 75 per cent of the workforce originate from outside the UK.
Speaking at the SAMW conference its president Frank Clark said: “We need clarity on how the recruiting of essential non-UK workers will be handled long term.
UK Minister Lord Duncan of Springbank said the challenge of recruiting a suitable workforce fell on the shoulders of the meat industry as much as it did on those of the government.
“Brexit does not mean no immigration. There will be immigration but it will be according to need and we will be in control of it," he said.
SAMW is not against the use of CCTV surveillance in abattoirs but only as an add-on to existing safeguards.
Frank Clark, SAMW president said: “CCTV provides valuable additional insight into operating efficiency and safety but it will never be as good as the quality of assessment made by a properly trained inspector.”