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Editorial: Along came Brexit


Although it’s been four years since the U.K. officialy left the European Union – its closest and biggest trading partner – the repercussions of such departure are now just beginning to unfold. 

With a new trade deal between the EU and the U.K. just signed on Dec. 24, 2020, and only taking effect on Jan. 1, reports of documentary red tape and massive delays at the border for goods being transported surfaced on the news cycles throughout January. For the seafood industry, these delays could cause a lot of stink – literally and figuratively.

In Holland, for example, 9,500 kilos of frozen shrimp from the U.K. were held for five days at Holland’s border due to some issues with the paperwork. The shipment was eventually released into the European Union, but not before bureaucratic intervention. Luckily, the shrimp were frozen so they arrived at their destination still in viable condition. 

Some shipments were not as lucky, as CNN reports in Scotland, “freshly caught fish are reportedly being left to rot as exporters cannot get them to the European Union…” 

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As a stop-gap measure, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government has earmarked up to £100 million (US$136 million) to compensate the nation’s exporters for the bureaucratic delays. Whether that would be enough for the significant disruptions these businesses have faced remains to be seen. 

The EU is the biggest market for Scottish salmon exports, accounting for more than half, or about 56 per cent, of the volume, according to data from the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation. The sector had been lobbying the U.K. and Scottish governments for a “grace period” which would have seen a gradual implementation of the new rules, or at least ensure that authorities are imposing a “light-touch approach” to the new paperwork requirements for cross-border goods.

On the heels of the worst pandemic in recent history, which caused an economic ripple effect felt up and down the food production and distribution value chain, the continuing Brexit saga does not bring much comfort – at least, in its initial stages. I’m certain this, too, will work itself out in the long run as governments and industry navigate through the transition pains. 

The lenient approach for checking paperwork between the EU and U.K. borders sounds like a reasonable compromise for all parties concerned. As much as the Brexit phenomenon was sparked by immigration woes (real or imagined), it was also supposed to be about the U.K.’s ability to negotiate beneficial trade deals with other regions, outside the EU’s regulatory hold. 

But while Britain’s bureaucrats scramble to achieve the economic objectives of Brexit, the very consitituents they’re purporting to provide more opportunities for are finding themselves gasping for air – like fish out of water.  


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