BMPA in talks with Government over export concerns
BMPA Chairman, Isla Roebuck was one of a select group of industry representatives given the opportunity to speak at the recent SIAL conference. He took the opportunity to voice concerns to Graham Stuart MP who serves as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade.
The six businesses that met with the MP collectively turn over £4bn pa with approximately 25% of that business coming from exports.
The concerns raised at the meeting will be pursued by BMPA and AHDB until we get some clarity around how the Government is planning to address the threats of Brexit to our industry. We also remain keenly aware that even achieving a ‘deal’ could spell significant disruption and harm to the British meat industry if it contains certain conditions.
Here are the main issues raised by Mr Roebuck and others at that meeting.
Any reduction in the labour pool will affect meat businesses’ ability to function at the volume and capacity needed to provide products for the marketplace, which will most likely impact food security and prices.
Further, given the Government’s stated aim to grow exports, any reduction in labour availability will mean the meat sector will not only fail to achieve growth, but is at risk of contraction, the impact of which would be felt across the whole supply chain.
The current number of Export Health Certificates (EHCs) issued for exports of red meat to Third Countries is in the region of 80,000. However, this is estimated to rise to 230,000 should such certificates be required for EU trade. This presents a number of issues.
Given that the majority of vets who currently sign these certificates are from other EU countries, such an immediate and large increase in demand will stretch the system to breaking point, with the shortfall in vets not easily or quickly remedied.
Each certificate in the current paper-based system costs in the region of £300 per consignment. As a result, our relatively high-priced British products will experience further rises to cover these costs.
Moving to an electronic system of raising EHCs will generate future savings but will require significant investment and will take considerable time to implement. By the time it is in place, much of the damage will have been done.
If border checks become a reality, our high value, chilled products are likely to be subject to delays, resulting in reduced shelf life. This would cause a potential loss of business with EU retailers who demand extended shelf life on fresh meats.
We are already seeing the first signs that our EU customers, in an attempt to mitigate the lack of clarity over the ‘deal’, are beginning to seek alternative, non-UK suppliers to ensure continuity of supply after Brexit.
In the future, the meat processing industry alongside Government also need a collective ambition and strategy around export growth. In order to facilitate this we will need more agricultural counsellors operating around the world in key new markets.
We are already seeing the results of the agricultural counsellor in China, which AHDB, on behalf of the industry, jointly funds with Defra. But we need to build on this to ensure that the British meat industry doesn’t fall behind other exporters in the burgeoning Asian markets.
It was encouraging to see that Mr Stuart recognised the fact that processors also require consistent ministerial presence in these emerging export markets. Such a presence that at least matches European competitors will be essential if the UK is to reach its full potential in export growth.
We have a hard deadline and much still to be worked out. Contingency planning under these conditions is difficult which is why BMPA will be pushing until the final hour to ensure our industry concerns are heard, understood and acted upon by Government.