A lack of clarity from the UK government over tariffs, certification and health marks ahead of Brexit is causing overseas customers to cancel orders from the country’s meat processors, a trade body has claimed.

The findings were disclosed by the London-based British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), which said it has been inundated with enquiries from members seeking information on what exactly will happen when the UK officially leaves the European Union on 29 March. 

And amid all the uncertainty, which is not helped by the fact UK consumers still do not know whether Brexit will be delayed or whether the country will come out with a deal or no-deal before the deadline, existing overseas customers are already buying their meat from other countries. 

The BMPA said the loss of business threatens to cause “major disruption” throughout the supply chain and would have “severe financial consequences for British meat companies who may struggle to win back lost business”.

It said it is calling on the Government to support the UK meat industry with clear information and guidance and to “step up efforts to agree trading terms with our most-valuable overseas trading partners”.

Nick Allen, the chief executive of the trade body representing the country’s meat producers, said: “Despite numerous crisis meetings with Government officials, we are still no closer to getting definitive guidance on tariffs, certification and health marks that our members desperately need. Unfortunately, the disruption has already started and damage is already being done.

“The lack of clarity around Brexit is now causing orders to be cancelled and effectively closing-off once lucrative export markets to British firms.”

BMPA adds there will be a knock-on effect through the whole food supply chain.

Firstly, without any clear guidance on tariffs in the event the UK comes out of the ongoing negotiations with no-deal, tariff-free goods shipped by exporters will be subject to an as yet unknown levy when they arrive at their destination. And then overseas customers will be left not knowing how much extra they might have to pay for their orders.

The BMPA also points out insurers covering such consignments and are refusing to “indemnify against losses” related to a no-deal Brexit.

Confusion abounds too over health marks showing where meat was processed and traceability, it said.

“So far, no decision has been made by Government over what this mark should be,” the trade body added. “Also, no formal acceptance of our change of status as we cease to be an EU member state has been received from our major export markets. This means that there is a real danger that any product that gets shipped bearing the wrong mark will be turned away at its destination.”

Without a clear conclusion to any deal before 29 March, British meat firms will be buying animals to process without any understanding of what the market may look like post the deadline. 

“And, it won’t be a simple matter of selling more product into the UK market because most of the GBP1bn (US$1.32bn) worth of meat exported is made up of cuts that are popular overseas but not here in Britain,” the BMPA said.