Imported seafood's Brexit status is a key concern for major retailers

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 4 Jan 2018

Fish has been highlighted by the British Retail Consortium as one of the key imports that underlines how essential it is to maintain trade deals brokered by the EU globally.

New evidence has been published by the influential organisation, underlining the vast benefit brought to UK consumers by zero or low rate tariffs with third party countries.

A ‘starting 11’ of key relationships has been drawn up, and it includes Iceland and Norway – responsible for more than 75 per cent of imports into Grimsby, where 70 per cent of the UK's seafood is handled.

Yesterday, all but 40 of the 2,760 50kg boxes auctioned on the fish market were from the two nations, with a similar picture anticipated today.

TARIFF TRACKING: The 11 nations highlighted by the BRC. Right click to expand.

It comes as negotiations are set to move on to trade. As we currently stand, from the day after the UK leaves the EU – on March 30 next year – it will no longer be covered by these international agreements, so imported goods will be subject to higher tariffs and potential customs barriers.

For consumers this means higher prices, with processors – already concerned by labour movement – likely to be squeezed too as supermarkets seek to keep sales up.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “While securing a deal with the EU to enable tariff-free trade to continue remains the priority, the deals the EU has negotiated with countries around the world also contribute to the choice and affordability of goods that UK shoppers purchase every day. People need reassurance from Government that these deals will be transferred in time to ensure that UK consumers don’t lose out.

“New or higher tariffs inevitably mean consumers would face higher prices in their everyday shop, as staple products such as fruit, vegetables, fish, and clothing would be hardest hit. Price increases of any scale would add to the burden of hard-pressed consumers whose finances are already being squeezed by inflationary pressures.

“Now that an agreement has been reached to move the negotiations on to trade, the focus must be on securing the continuity of free trade with Europe, alongside replicating these existing agreements with countries outside of the EU. These are the crucial next steps that Government needs to take to avoid a cliff-edge situation on Brexit Day and to deliver a fair Brexit for consumers.”

Using import data from UK retailers, the BRC has identified the countries where negotiating replica trade agreements will make the most difference to ensure prices don’t rise immediately on exit. It highlights a tariff on fish from Iceland potentially rising from 3.4 to 11 per cent.

Turkey and South Africa are the two largest bilateral deals, with these countries involved making up 6 per cent of the total of retailers’ imports. Taken with the EU (29 per cent) they account for more than a third of all goods brought in – almost equivalent to the 36 per cent of nations where no deal exists. The balance is made up under the generalised scheme of preferences, giving developing nations access on better terms than the World Trade Organisation.

Simon Dwyer, a leading figure behind cluster organisation Seafood Grimsby and Humber, said: “It is very interesting what has been highlighted, with five or six things flagged up and two of the countries being for seafood, both from two areas – Iceland and Norway – which we rely on for supply.

“It concurs with what we have been saying from the beginning about what is required with trade as it impacts on the processing sector. It is pleasing to see it there in black and white again.”

As UK representative for the North Atlantic Seafood Forum, the major annual international gathering of seafood leaders in Norway, Mr Dwyer is keen to use the platform to help in any way possible when it convenes in early March.

At Humber Seafood Summit in September, outgoing Icelandic ambassador to the UK, Thordur Aegir Oskarsson, told of a strong desire to build on trade relations

In a keynote address at the welcome reception at Grimsby's Humber Royal Hotel, he said: "It really important to reach an early agreement for seafood in particular, and trade in general.

“A free trade agreement at the earliest chance and a continuation of undisrupted trade on exit day will be very important to us as the largest supplier of seafood to the UK and as a significant supplier of imports for processing and to the consumer market. 18 per cent of our seafood export goes to the UK.

“We even harbour the hope we can do a lot better than the present arrangement and would like to aim for full free trade for seafood."

MORE: The bilateral trade deals that matter to consumers - full report from the BRC.

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