The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has warned that £1.2 billion of annual meat exports will be at risk along with thousands of jobs if key Brexit concerns are not addressed.
In a strongly-worded press release, the association said Brexit contingency plans were moving at ‘snail’s pace’ and highlighted what it describes as ‘glaring weaknesses’ in the Government’s export plans.
The meat industry’s warning comes as the prospects of a deal with the EU being in place in time for the end of the transition period at the beginning of 2021 appear to be worsening.
The Government is reported to be planning to make changes to the Withdrawal Agreement in relation to Northern Ireland’s status, which has angered EU negotiators.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said a trade deal with the EU must be agreed by October 15, claiming that, if it does not happen, both sides should ‘accept that and move on’, adding that this would be a ‘good outcome’ for the UK.
Defra Secretary George Eustice took a similar line, suggesting a no deal, with tariffs, of, for example, 40% on beef exports would represent a ‘good deal’ as the UK would gain its independence.
However, the BMPA said that, despite reassurances from Mr Johnson last week that ‘we’re ready for any eventuality’, the reality is that many key issues remain unresolved.
“Brexit contingency preparations are proceeding at a snail’s pace and the UK Government’s ‘Brexit Report Card’ to date reveals some glaring weaknesses in an export system that is about to become massively overloaded,” the association said.
“Unless a number of key issues are urgently addressed, £1.2 billion of annual meat exports will be at risk along with thousands of jobs in the meat and livestock sector.”
BMPA chief Nick Allen said: “After months of meetings and talks with Government which have yielded little progress, the British meat industry, along with other sectors that rely on overseas trade, has lost patience and we are calling publicly for Government to step up the pace and solve these issues before it is too late.
“With less than four months to go Britain has a woeful lack of infrastructure and people to operate the new export system which if not addressed, will result in massive delays, extra cost and lost orders.”
The comments reflect growing concerns across the industry – the NPA has today warned that the industry’s ability to export live breeding pigs could be seriously compromised after the transition period ends.
Meanwhile, a group of eight industry logistics organisations, including the Road Haulage Association, has warned that Britain’s supply chains are at risk of ‘severe’ disruption from new post-Brexit rules unless ministers take urgent action.
What needs fixing
The BMPA highlighted a number of areas where it believes action needs to be taken regardless of whether or not we get a deal, and which, if not addressed, have the potential to severely damage the UK meat export market.
Export Health Certificates – Currently, of all the consignments of meat products dispatched from the UK each year, only those to ‘Third Countries’ require Export Health Certificates, representing a tiny percentage of the total. The remainder are delivered to EU countries, often as smaller mixed loads known as ‘groupage’.
After December 31, all consignments, including those to the EU, will require an Export Health Certificate, meaning the system will have to cope with a flood of new applications. The BMPA called for firm assurances from Government that the new system promised will be up and running at full capacity by the end of the year.
Not Enough Vets – Because all meat exports after December 31, including those to the EU will require an Export Health Certificate, every overseas consignment from every meat plant across the country will need to be inspected by an Official Veterinarian prior to dispatch. Currently only third country exports require this.
BMPA said there were ‘simply not enough trained vets in the UK to cover this additional workload’ and called for the Government to explain how they are going to resolve this issue.
Health & ID Marks – The association also called for definitive confirmation that the new Government proposed Health Marks, which are used to certify the export standard, have been agreed with all our trading partners. Without this nothing can be exported. In reality we risk losing orders from September onwards because of the 3 to 4-month lead times involved. Those orders will be scooped up by Britain’s competitors, BMPA said.
Groupage (the convenience of mixed loads of products) – Deliveries of meat destined for the EU currently makes use of the fact that small, regular consignments can be grouped together into big ones and sent off on a daily basis, which is both cost effective and reduces waste.
After December 31, this option will not be available because Government guidelines state that groupage of fresh and frozen meat is not allowed to third countries, which the EU will by then become. If this doesn’t change and UK companies can no longer use groupage, they will be at a significant competitive disadvantage and very likely lose orders.
Not good enough
The association concluded: “Our message to the Government is that This is NOT Good Enough. They have had four years to prepare and have known all along that these technical issues will need to be addressed regardless of whether or not we get a deal.
“We’re now less than four months from the end of the transition period and we can’t stay silent on the lack of progress any longer.”