Many fish merchants and processors have given up hope that the European Union and the United Kingdom will agree on a trade agreement this month. However, Tim Heddema, Agriculture Council at the Dutch Embassy in London, has been more positive. “The British need our fish for their fish and chips.”
“I still think there is a good chance of a late deal,” said Heddema at an online seminar of the Fish Federation, the industry organisation for wholesale and processing. Both the EU and the UK are preparing to implement such an agreement just before the end of the transition period in the Brexit process. This transitional period, during which the UK still complies with European legislation, will end on 31 December.
However, a few weeks before the deadline expires, the negotiations are still difficult. Brussels and London have been arguing for months about the access of European fishermen to British waters, equal opportunities for British and European companies (in British waters!) and the way in which they should be monitored or both sides comply with the agreements made.
For several weeks now, British leaders have been saying that a deal is “feasible if the EU moves”. However, a recent compromise proposal on access to fishing grounds that would have been made by the European negotiators would have been immediately rejected by the British, reported Bloomberg press office Wednesday based on insider information.
Without a trade agreement, all kinds of restrictions will apply from 1 January, such as import duties on and off. The import and export of fish will also be affected.
But even if a deal is still made at the last minute, things change. Fish and fish products will also have to meet European or British quality and health requirements. The IT technology and customs facilities for this are not yet in place, particularly on the British side, Heddema said. “British industry is deeply concerned. That’s counting on long traffic jams and product shortages.”
There is a lively trade in fish and fish products between the UK and the EU. In 2019, the British exported EUR 1.4 billion to the EU. Most important products are salmon and shellfish. Conversely, Europe brought more than EUR 1.3 billion across the Channel. These were mainly cod, haddock, salmon and tuna. Dutch exports of fish products to the UK accounted for over EUR 178 million.
According to Heddema, the British need for import fish remains ‘huge’. For example, cod and haddock, which British fishermen themselves catch little, are important ingredients for the much eaten fish and chips. In his view, this offers opportunities for Dutch exporters.
The position of the Dutch fishing fleet is also important for trade. Like other EU countries, it is in danger of losing free access to British waters. Even flagged vessels –Dutch owners registered in the UK and therefore officially British-are subject to stricter requirements. According to Heddema, there is legislation in the pipeline which says that they will soon have to land 70% of the fish caught in the UK or hand over a proportionate share of their catch quotas to the British.
Jelle van Veen, ceo of fish wholesale Dayseaday in Urk and board member of the fish Federation, is gloomy about the possibility that the EU and the UK might still agree on a trade agreement. “It’s taking me too long,” he said. If an agreement is reached, he fears that this will be to the detriment of the fishermen who are still dumping their nets in British waters. “I think this will be given away as change.”