EU importers are cancelling British meat orders and switching to rival countries due to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding post-Brexit trading arrangements.
With no progress on an exit deal and Brexit day approaching, UK meat suppliers were suffering big financial losses as European clients switched to other suppliers to guard against disruption, the British Meat Processors Association warned.
“The axe has already fallen for some of our members. The lack of clarity over Place of Animal Origin (POAO) health stamps and tariffs is now causing orders to be cancelled and effectively closing off once-lucrative export markets to British firms,” BMPA CEO Nick Allen told The Grocer.
Processors of high-quality meat were losing out most, said Allen, citing Italian buyers now ordering from Irish processors to safeguard supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit. “These will be the hardest clients to win back,” he added.
Brexit uncertainty over which POAO health stamp to use after Brexit was also causing confusion, Allen added, with the UK locked in a dispute with both European and Irish authorities over which stamp it could use after Brexit. Confusion over future tariff arrangements was also exacerbating the difficulties faced by exporters.
“British meat processors are now buying animals to process without knowing how the market will operate at the end of the month, while orders already in the shipment process have been thrown into jeopardy and risk being refused at EU ports,” said Allen.
“There is a real danger that any product that gets shipped bearing the wrong health mark will be turned away at its destination, while overseas customers have no way of knowing how much extra in tariffs they will be required to pay,” he added.
Despite attending “numerous crisis meetings” with government officials, Allen said he was unable to advise BMPA members any further over post-Brexit trading conditions.
“Last week we were inundated with inquiries from members wanting information on what exactly is going to happen, especially over the health marks.
“I have been relaying to ministers our exasperation. But in return, they offer only resignation that our business is suffering,” he said.
Defra told The Grocer that in the event the UK leaves the EU with no agreement “goods traded between the UK and the EU will be subjected to the same requirements as third country goods, including the payment of customs duty”.
“As part of preparations for Brexit, we have been meeting regularly with representatives from British meat companies to allow them to put in place measures to be ready to leave the EU, and are considering all options to mitigate any challenges posed by Brexit in the interests of businesses, farmers, and consumers,” a Defra spokesman said.
In response, Allen warned the patience of BMPA members was now wearing rapidly thin. “Confidence in the government, that it is listening to our concerns and will save our businesses from severe losses, is running low,” he said.