The combination of falling demand in the EU due to coronavirus restrictions and the introduction of new procedures at the end of the transition period meant that exports fell significantly in the first month of January. Exports of food and drink recovered in February, increasing by 77% on the previous month. While official statistics for March are not yet available, we know that the number of applications for export health certificates has continued to grow.
Since the Government’s precious Brexit, fish exports to the EU have collapsed and the Government said it was teething problems; cheese exports collapsed and the Government blamed exporters for poor paperwork; seafood exports collapsed and the Government said they might reclassify waters to make them cleaner. But nothing substantive has happened on any of it. What will it take to get action from Ministers, or do we have to wait for a text from a crony?
We have indeed taken action right from the moment that there were teething problems in that first week of January as import agents, exporters and border control officials struggled to get used to the paperwork. As I pointed out, it is an improving situation. The hon. Member asked about trends. The trend is a rising one, increasing by 77% in February, and with export health certificates continuing to grow.
Scottish exports make up a quarter of the UK’s food and drink exports. Those exports have been hammered by Brexit, losing out on hundreds of millions of pounds in sales in January and February alone, with some products seeing their market all but collapse, and virtually nothing is being done about it. A new Brexit cliff has arrived before we finished plummeting off the last one: composite food products now need export health certificates. The chaos of the last set of regs is still haunting our exports, and this new chaos will further dent them. Vets say they will not have the capacity to deal with this. What plans do the Government have to address that clear danger?
The European Union has changed some of its export health certificates, particularly for composite goods, from 21 April. We have been working very closely with industry and all those affected over the last few months. We knew that this was going to happen. We have worked with it on getting those replacement health certificates and, in some cases, the need for a private attestation. Yes, it is complicated. It is a change in law that the EU has made and always intended to make, but we worked very closely with industry and all those affected to make sure that they were ready.