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Fishing Industry: Tariffs

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 26 November 2020

What discussions he has had with representatives from (a) fishing communities and (b) the fish processing sector on the potential effect on the viability of the UK fishing industry of the imposition of tariffs after the transition period. (909294)

Before I turn to the question, the tragic loss of the Joanna C on Saturday is a sad reminder of the dangers that our fishermen face every time they go out to sea. We are all incredibly grateful for the bravery and dedication of the Coastguard, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and all those involved in the search. Our thoughts are with the families of Adam Harper and Robert Morley, and all the families and those affected.

The Government have offered the European Union a free trade agreement along the lines of the EU-Canada one, which would involve zero tariffs on all goods, including fish and fish products. We hold regular discussions with both the catching sector and the fish processing sector to discuss the great opportunities that will arise at the end of the transition period.

I associate my group with the comments of the Minister. It is a timely reminder of the high price that is sometimes paid for putting food on our plates at home.

Non-tariff barriers are also a concern for the fishing industry, as are tariffs. This week’s test run for post-border transition procedures demonstrated the severe chaos that might be expected in the new year. I am sure that the Minister appreciates fully that seafood products need to be delivered to markets timeously. So what assurances can he give to the catching and processing sectors that delays will not equal ruined produce and ruined businesses?

We have been working with the fishing industry and local authorities to ensure that they have the capacity in place to employ the environmental health officers necessary to issue both the catch certificates and the environmental health certificates. We have about 1,000 officers now who can issue export health certificates for fish. It is the case that there are some concerns in Scotland, where the Scottish Government potentially have a gap in capacity of 100. We are working with them to try to offer our help to ensure that that gap can be filled.

I, too, associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks. That reminds us why this industry is so important to us and why it tugs at our hearts when we hear of such sad events.

Tariffs are a great worry for many other sectors as well. Tariffs of a possible 48% are a huge concern for the sheep sector, so the Secretary of State’s suggestion that sheep farmers could simply switch to beef production if punitive lamb tariffs cause their business models to crash has angered many Scottish farmers and crofters, who have spent many years building up the high reputation that Scotch lamb enjoys for quality. The National Sheep Association Scotland has called for assurances that a compensation scheme will be ready and waiting. What details can he outline today of such a scheme?

I always advise people to look at what I actually said, rather than at the Twitter attacks on what I might have said. I never said that specialist sheep farmers and crofters should diversify into beef; I explicitly said that some of the 7,000 mixed beef and sheep enterprises might choose to produce more beef and less lamb if the price signal suggested that they should.

The Scottish Seafood Association has joined other food and drink leaders with a recent letter to the Prime Minister. The message is clear: tariffs mean enormous damage to our industry, and that is on top of covid losses of an estimated £3 billion. When will the Minister reveal details of the financial support that is so clearly desperately needed?

Tariffs on fish, particularly the fish that we export, are typically far lower than on many agrifoods. The average tariff on the shellfish that we export is about 8%. Obviously, we would prefer there to be zero tariffs on all goods, and that is the offer that the Government have made to the European Union—in both directions—but the fishing sector generally recognises that, if it needed to pay tariffs, it could pay those tariffs, and the European Union would have to face higher prices.