The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has slammed the UK government for what it describes as “snail’s pace” Brexit talks.
The UK left the EU in January and the two markets in a transition period until the end of the year. They are engaged in trade negotiations but the discussions have progressed slowly. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated if a deal is not done by 15 October it is unlikely to happen.
In that eventuality, the UK would then trade with its former EU partners on World Trade Organization terms from 1 January next year.
The BMPA, which represents UK meatpackers, is urging the government to redouble its efforts to either get a deal done or to issue guidance for the post-Brexit era for meat exporters if no deal is achieved.
It said: “The reality is is that many key issues remain unresolved. Brexit contingency preparations are proceeding at a snail’s pace and the UK government’s ‘Brexit report card’ to date reveals some glaring weaknesses in an export system that is about to become massively overloaded.
“Unless a number of key issues are urgently addressed, GBP1.2bn (US1.56bn) of annual meat exports will be at risk along with thousands of jobs in the meat and livestock sector.
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BMPA chief executive Nick Allen said: “After months of meetings and talks with Government which have yielded little progress, the British meat industry, along with other sectors that rely on overseas trade, has lost patience and we are calling publicly for Government to step up the pace and solve these issues before it is too late.”
“With less than four months to go Britain has a woeful lack of infrastructure and people to operate the new export system which if not addressed, will result in massive delays, extra cost and lost orders.”
The issues the BMPA is concerned about include the issuance of guidance on export health certificates, currently only needed for exports from the UK to non-EU markets, and the necessity for a recruitment drive to bring in more vets, who will be needed to inspect meat plants prior to export.
“Our message to the government is that this is not good enough. They have had four years to prepare and have known all along that these technical issues will need to be addressed regardless of whether or not we get a deal,” the BMPA said.
“We’re now less than four months from the end of the transition period and we can’t stay silent on the lack of progress any longer.”
In a statement sent to just-food, a spokesperson for the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), said: “At the end of the year we will be outside the single market and the customs union and intensive planning is under way to help ensure that businesses and citizens are ready to take advantage of the opportunities and changes that will bring.
“We are working closely with vets and food producers to ensure they are ready for the UK’s new chapter, including establishing a new online application service for export health certificates and supporting the training of additional Certification Support Officers to ensure all vital paperwork is ready as UK produce is exported around the world.”