A task force dedicated to the seafood sector in Scotland will meet for the first time this week.
The Scottish Seafood Exports Task Force draws together the UK Government and a range of industry representatives from the catching, processing and aquaculture sectors.
The Scottish Government has been invited to be represented at both ministerial and official level.
The group will be hosted by the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland and chaired by UK Government Minister for Scotland, David Duguid.
He stated: “We have had extensive consultations with the industry and have been working day and night to resolve issues around the new arrangements for getting our world-class seafood to customers in Europe.
“From this ongoing consultation with industry representatives, I believe that the gap they would like us to fill would comprise an action-oriented group.
“This will work collaboratively across UK and Scottish governments, increasing confidence in the seafood and aquaculture supply chain by ensuring that medium and longer-term export issues are resolved.”
Duguid added: “I am clear about the need for action. I want the taskforce to track the export process to identify issues stopping or delaying export, and areas of complexity that are not yet well understood.”
He said that the taskforce is aiming for a common understanding on the export process and address concerns by developing solutions to be taken forward by the UK Government, Scottish Government and EU.
Existing working groups which bring together the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the industry to tackle day-to-day issues will continue to operate, and the Scottish seafood sector remains engaged in these, noted a statement.
The new task force will meet fortnightly, with a focus on establishing and pushing forward the actions needed to help secure a prosperous long-term future for the Scottish seafood industry, taking advantage of new opportunities as well as addressing current challenges.
The UK Government recently announced a £23m scheme which will provide support for fishermen and seafood exporters, which have experienced delays and a lack of demand for fish from the restaurant industry in the UK and Europe.
According to the UK Government, solutions have already been delivered on a number of problems that caused difficulties for the industry, including – but not limited to – computer system glitches.
A statement suggested that it is now working closely with individual businesses to help them get used to the new procedures required to ensure that errors or problems are tackled early.
The UK Government also claimed to have stood up extra physical resources to support certification in Scottish export hubs, providing specialist certifiers to support Food Standards Scotland and DFDS, as well as working with French authorities to ensure that minor administrative issues have not prevented goods from entering the EU.
Separately, yesterday the Environment Secretary George Eustice answered an urgent question in the House of Commons about the EU’s restrictions on the trade in live bivalve molluscs.
Recently, concerns had emerged around trade in live shellfish to the EU coming from UK Class B production waters, which have not been through purification or have not cleared testing.
The European Commission has changed its position in recent weeks. It had previously advised there would need to be a pause while new Export Health Certificates became available in April, but that in line with the guidance from the EU, trade in the molluscs from farms could continue uninterrupted.
“We continue to believe that our interpretation of the law and the EU’s original interpretation is correct and that the trade should be able to continue for all relevant molluscs from April – and there is no reason for a gap at all for molluscs from aquaculture,” said Eustice.
“However, last week, the Commission gave us sight of instructions they had sent to all Member States on 3 February stating that any imports into the EU from the UK of Live Bivalve Molluscs for purification from Class B waters, such as the sea around Wales and the South West of England, are not permitted.”
Exports from Class A waters, such as around parts of Scotland, may continue.
“Bringing an end to this traditional and valuable trade is unacceptable, said Eustice. “I recognise this is a devastating blow to those business that are reliant on the trade – while we do not agree with the Commission’s interpretation of the law, we have had to advise traders that their consignments may very well not be accepted at EU ports for now.”
The molluscs affected include mussels, oysters, clams and cockles. In general, the scallop trade is less affected. Scallop exports may instead undergo pre-export testing, as was the case before exit.
The issue does not affect molluscs landed in Northern Ireland, but does affect movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
“I know that this issue will be of great concern to many exporters around the country,” concluded Eustice. “Defra will continue the technical discussions with the European Commission and I will update the House with any developments in due course.”
— to www.insider.co.uk