UK meat shipments have been left rotting at ports this week due to burdensome paperwork brought about by Brexit.
Though current trade volumes are just 20 per cent of normal levels as exporters ‘test’ the system, delays saw processors reject UK shipments and cancel future orders, sparking concern that UK meat exporters could face ‘serious and sustained losses’ if abandoned by European processors in favour of EU suppliers.
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said members had already been told by EU customers that they would be looking to Spain and Ireland to purchase product.
But AHDB analyst Duncan Wyatt remained optimistic that short-term issues would not see a huge shift away from British meat.
Responding to the disruption, Farming Minister Victoria Prentis acknowledged the customs forms were ‘hellish’, but added they could not be removed as they were an EU requirement.
She told a National Sheep Association meeting this week that the UK Government was doing all it could to smooth the process.
She said: “We have had very granular discussions with the French, the Irish and the Dutch in particular over the past few weeks about whether they require blue or red ink and whether each individual page should be stamped.”
Mr Allen called for the customs and certification system to be digitised, branding the existing paper-based system ‘a relic from the last century’.
He said: “It was never designed to cope with the kind of 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.”
Concerns have also been raised about exports of skins, hides and animal by-products, where non-tariff barriers are onerous and unclear.
Stuart Ashworth, director of economic services at Quality Meat Scotland, warned that without more guidance the restrictions would lead to a build-up of product in store, weakening prices and cutting processors’ returns.
The pig sector is facing its own set of issues too, with all pigs destined for the EU market now having to be tested for trichinella, which is something not all processors are set up to do.
Dr Zoe Davies, National Pig Association chief executive, said: “Pig prices are crashing and the eye-watering prices of soya and straw feed mean our sector, which is highly unprofitable at the moment, will not survive for very long if something does not change.”