1.On 31 December 2020, Great Britain (GB) left the European Single Market and European Union (EU) Customs Union. After the United Kingdom (UK) left the EU on 31 January 2020, it immediately entered a “Transition Period” during which trading conditions with the EU remained unchanged while negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU were conducted. On 24 December 2020, negotiations on the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) were concluded. The TCA provisionally took effect from 1 January 2021 and maintained tariff and quota free bilateral trade. However, it did not prevent the application of non-tariff barriers for the trade in seafood and meat and many other products of animal origin (POAO), including the requirement for many such exports to the EU to have an Export Health Certificate (EHC). Under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland of the Withdrawal Agreement, “Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of [European] Single Market rules” and is “subject to most of the EU’s customs rules”, meaning that trade between NI and the EU was unaffected by these changes. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is conducting its own inquiry into the specific issues the new arrangements cause for the movement of food and other items from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and these matters are therefore not considered in this Report.
2.In February 2018, our predecessor committee’s Report, “Brexit: Trade in Food”, considered the challenges to UK food producers of a new trading relationship with the EU and other countries. In particular, the Report cautioned that any creation of non-tariff barriers to trade with the EU were a “huge concern to the agricultural industry” with the “potential to cause an additional expense and delays to businesses”. This scenario has now come to pass. This Report considers the challenges facing seafood and meat exporters in Great Britain as they seek to continue to trade with businesses in the EU whilst ensuring their consignments now have the correct paperwork. They also face checks and delays at the EU border that can impact the quality and therefore the price of their often live or fresh produce. At the same time, their EU competitors can currently import produce to Great Britain with a lower level of bureaucracy and checks until later this year, including no requirement for an EHC and no checks at the border in most cases. These changes are taking place against the backdrop of the covid-19 pandemic, which has itself reduced demand for seafood and meat exports, especially from the hospitality sector, and diverted businesses’ focus from preparing for the new trading environment.
3.This Report considers how the TCA has affected seafood and meat exporters to date, including the impact of “teething problems” as businesses, certifying officers and border officials among others adapted to the new procedures and the effect on the market for British exports, the longer-term structural issues that now affect businesses, and how some of these barriers to trade might be reduced. The Report then looks at the delayed introduction of SPS checks on imports of EU POAO, and the scope for improved co-operation with the EU.
4.We held a private briefing with the Secretary of State in January 2021 to discuss the problems food exporters had experienced since the TCA provisionally came into effect, including reports that companies were unable or unwilling to continue exporting to the EU and that there were considerable delays at the EU border. Following that meeting, we launched this inquiry to hear from those involved in the export of seafood and meat, which was particularly affected because such exports to the EU are usually fresh or live and therefore especially time-sensitive. The EU market is vital to both sectors: for seafood, the UK “import[s] around 66% of what we eat and export about 80% of what we catch”, while for meat exports, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) noted that British exports to the EU were part of a “24/7 just in time food supply chain with an expectation of a day 1 slaughter being delivered on day 2”. We are aware, however, that other sectors have experienced difficulties since 1 January. Our call for evidence asked:
(1)Which seafood and meat exports have been particularly affected by border delays and disruptions since 1 January, and why?
(2)What impact have delays and non-tariff barriers on seafood and meat exports to the EU had on UK businesses?
a)What are the medium to long-term implications of the non-tariff barriers for UK exporters and supply chains?
(3)What steps should the UK Government take to mitigate these issues? What should its short and long-term priorities for action be?
(4)How effective and timely will the Government’s proposed £23 million support package for seafood exporters be?
(5)How useful and responsive were the guidance and support provided by the Government to business, before and since 1 January?
(6)What can the UK learn from other countries who export food to the EU?
(7)How ready is the UK to introduce checks on food imports from the EU during 2021, and are there lessons to be learnt from the issues that UK exporters have faced?
5.We took evidence from seafood and meat producers, representatives of certifying officers responsible for signing EHCs, the logistics sector, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rt Hon George Eustice MP, and Government officials. We also received 36 submissions of written evidence. We thank everyone who contributed to the inquiry.
1 Prime Minister’s Office, , updated 11 March 2021. England, Wales and Scotland make up Great Britain, while the United Kingdom is constituted of Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
2 “The UK government does not use the term transition: instead it prefers to refer to this period as an ‘implementation period’”. [Institute for Government, ‘’, accessed 6 April 2021]
3 “EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement: protecting European interests, ensuring fair competition, and continued cooperation in areas of mutual interest”, European Commission , 24 December 2020.
4 The Government explained that “to export tariff-free under the TCA, goods must meet the UK-EU preferential rules of origin”. This means that there must be a “qualifying level of processing in the country of export” in order to access zero tariffs. This applies to EU origin goods imported and moving through the UK from a Member State to another EU Member State, as well as goods imported from the Rest of World. [HM Revenue and Customs, , 16 March 2021]
5 HM Government, (December 2020), p202
6 European Commission, , 17 October 2019; Institute for Government, ‘’, accessed 21 April 2021
7 “MPs to probe Northern Ireland Protocol”, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee , 10 September 2020
8 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2017–2019, , HC 348
9 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2017–2019, , HC 348, p 27
10 National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations () paras 7 and 9
11 Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Animal and Plant Health Agency, ‘’, accessed 8 April 2021; The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations () para 4
12 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs () para 1.2; Provision Trade Federation and UK Seafood Industry Alliance () para 9
13 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, , 12 February 2021; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, , 29 January 2020
14 “Brexit border delays for meat and seafood exports: EFRA Committee launch urgent inquiry”, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee , 29 January 2021
15 Provision Trade Federation and UK Seafood Industry Alliance () para 18; British Meat Processors Association () p 2
16 “Organic food hit by UK’s ‘1970s’ Brexit red tape”, Politico, 10 March 2021; “How the seed potato industry is reacting to loss of EU market”, Farmers Weekly, 16 February 2021
17 “Brexit border delays for meat and seafood exports: EFRA Committee launch urgent inquiry”, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee , 29 January 2021