The “sheer scale” of uncertainty created by Brexit is proving extremely challenging for fishing and farming businesses, MSPs have been told.
Holyrood’s Europe Committee heard the changes potentially required for the Scottish agriculture sector after Brexit are “probably bigger and wider than most people could envisage”.
During an evidence session, representatives from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, Scotland Food and Drink and the Scottish Seafood Association spoke about how ready their industries are for the UK leaving the EU when the transition period ends on December 31.
Concerns were raised about the prospect of tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which John Davidson from Scotland Food and Drink said could be “catastrophic for the sector”.
Mr Davidson argued there needs to be an additional “grace period” of six months to allow businesses to adapt to new arrangements because there remains so much uncertainty about the future trading relationship as negotiations with the EU continue.
Businesses are currently “focused on surviving Covid-19” rather than making preparations for Brexit, Mr Davidson said.
He added: “We are 50 days away and we don’t quite know the detail of many, many issues, and ultimately that’s what the transition period was meant to be about.”
Asked about the UK and Scottish Governments’ preparations, Scottish Seafood Association chief executive Jimmy Buchan said both Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon’s administrations “have done a tremendous amount of work” but the country is “simply not ready or prepared enough” for the Brexit deadline.
He said: “I think the sheer scale of the project, the scope and work in advance of the significant change industry is going to have to embrace is probably bigger and wider than most people could envision.”
Mr Buchan added the “extremely challenging” prospect of extra paperwork and the cost of dealing with additional regulations could put smaller companies out of business and make small consignments of products “non-viable, and then that market may be lost”.
NFU Scotland vice-president Charlie Adam warned that even with the UK Government’s recent Agriculture Bill, the prospect of lower standard imports “could threaten (Scottish farming’s) very existence”.
He added: “We’ve been very concerned that we might find ourselves under pressure from imported goods under any trade deal which doesn’t meet the standards we have to meet, placing us in an uncompetitive position.”
On the apparent impasse in negotiations between the two sides on fishing rights, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Elspeth Macdonald argued there has been an “artificial link” created between securing a trade deal and fishing agreements.
“It is unprecedented to have fisheries agreements that are linked to trade agreements,” she said.
Ms Macdonald added tying the two issues together must be “strongly resisted”.
She said: “The international norm for fisheries agreement is that they are standalone agreements about access to the other parties’ waters and fishing opportunities.”
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