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Fish Exports To The EU Collapsed By 83% In January According To "Grim" Post-Brexit Figures

3 min read

The UK's fish and shellfish exports to the European Union dropped by a whopping 83% in January, while meat sales dropped by two-thirds, with Brexit being blamed as the primary reason.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released on Friday showed that the UK's total exports to the continent decreased by 41% in January.

It was the first month of the UK's life outside of the EU's Single Market and Customs Union and with new checks and red tape in place.

Exports of food, which have been hit by a wave of new health and customs paperwork since 1 January, dropped by 63%, the ONS found.

Fish was the worst-affected industry. Fish and shellfish exports to the EU dropped by 83% in January as the new paperwork led to lengthy delays and European customers cancelling orders.

Meat exports to the UK's largest trading partner fell by nearly two-thirds (59%), while dairy exports halved (50%).

Cabinet Office Minister David Frost, who led the UK's trade negotiations with the EU, tweeted that "caution should be applied when interpreting these statistics".

The government expected an "unusual" drop in cross-border trade, he said, because many firms stockpiled goods in preparation for the end of the Brexit transition period.

The temporary closure of businesses across the continent in response to the coronavirus pandemic also meant there was reduced demand for UK goods in the EU, he added.

However, James Withers of Scotland Food & Drink said Brexit was "right at the heart of this trade collapse" due to the "creation of huge, new, non-tariff trade barriers with our biggest export market".

“There is no sugar-coating these statistics, they are grim," he said.

"This simply can’t be talked away as a Covid issue. 

"The crash in UK trade has not been seen in sales to non-EU markets, despite it being a global pandemic. Also, we did not see a fall like this at any point during the first lockdown".

Withers said that while he expected exports to increase in February and March, they "will never recover to anything like the levels before" unless the government re-negotiates its trading arrangements with Brussels.

"EU supply chains will permanently restructure, and UK businesses and jobs will lose out," he warned.Shellfish businesses in particular have been affected by new barriers to trading with the EU.

As PoliticsHome revealed, since 1 January there has been a total prohibition of live mussels, oysters, cockles and other shellfish caught in class B waters entering the bloc — most waters around England and Wales.

The government recently unveiled a £23m Seafood Disruption Scheme to help affected businesses recover lost money they have lost through their sales being torpedoed.

However, the industry is calling for the government to reach an agreement with the EU on animal health standards in order to remove some of the time-consuming red tape.

The trade deal agreed between the government and Brussels in December reduced the EU's share of fish caught in British waters but led to an array of new paperwork.

Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said the ONS figures "make it clear just how many British businesses have been struggling with the new reams of costly red tape and bureaucracy this Government has wrapped them in.  

"Businesses have been appealing to the government to start listening to the problems they've been facing, but they've been left out in the cold. 

"The Government must up their ambition here, and take practical action, hand in hand with businesses, to build on the limited deal they negotiated with the EU".

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