Brexit bringing UK pork exports under pressure, says NPA
UK pork processors are experiencing significant issues in exporting products to the EU, which has already brought part of the industry to a complete standstill, according to the National Pig Association (NPA).
Despite the trade deal agreed between the EU and UK just before Christmas, the UK’s formal departure from the EU Customs Union and Single Market has meant additional checks, new labelling and certification requirements creating delays at ports.
While the full overall impact of the new rules is yet to be felt, as UK export volumes remain lower than normal for the time of year, the NPA says the UK pig sector is already feeling the effect.
Processors have reported a number of issues, including stringent assessments of paperwork from customs officials, delays as a result of additional paperwork and a shortage of vets which is also slowing down loads at ports.
“The concern is that the situation is only going to get worse as export volumes increase over the coming weeks, putting more pressure on a system that is already buckling.”
NPA chief executive, Zoe Davies, said: “We are seeing a bureaucracy overload and it is already having a big impact on the pig sector. This is partly an inevitable consequence of Brexit – we always knew it would mean more red tape, checks and delays. But there is a political element, too. Why are 30% of all UK consignments to the EU are being checked? This is far more than many other Third Country exporters to the EU – for New Zealand, for example, the figure is 1%.”
Davies explained that the delays were forcing processors to cancel some shipments, with the cull sow trade particularly badly hit. She added that processors are currently wary of sending shipments out in case they are rejected due to deterioration of product following severe delays.
“The concern is that the situation is only going to get worse as export volumes increase over the coming weeks, putting more pressure on a system that is already buckling,” Davies added.
“For the pig sector, this comes on top of an already very difficult situation with processing plants hit by Covid-19 outbreaks and therefore unable to process pigs at the usual rate, meaning pigs are already staying on farms longer than they otherwise would.”
According to the NPA, in the first ten months of 2020 the UK exported more than 180,000 tonnes of pork to the EU, accounting for 44% of UK pork exports.
“If this trade grinds to a standstill, on top of the Covid-19 issues, we are going to see some serious problems across the sector,” Davies continued.
“The Government does not appear to think there is a problem. The clear message we are receiving from our processors is that there is – and we want to see some concerted action and political will to speed the processes up on both sides, with greater priority given to perishable products, such as pork.”
While UK products going to the EU are subject to additional checks, the same rules won’t be applied to products coming the other way for some time, as the UK is phasing in its checks.
“While this delay is convenient for a Government that wants to ensure there are no empty shelves in supermarkets, UK producers are being placed at a huge disadvantage and we have absolutely no leverage to convince the EU to change their position.
“It is clear that the Commission wishes to make Brexit as painful and as messy as possible to prevent any other country from following suit, so we have very little hope of improving things.
“The Government needs to accept we have a situation here that needs to be resolved, and quickly,” Davies concluded.
Photograph: NPA chief executive, Zoe Davies.