Channel freight delays foreshadow a Brexit cliff edge

Whether an early taster of the chaos which could result from a failure to secure a trade deal with the EU or a temporary Covid blip, the sudden imposition of a ban on the movement of people and freight lorries to France note-0sent shockwaves through the entire food supply chain.

And the country’s sheep farmers found themselves thrust into the front row of those affected by the ban on shipments crossing from Dover driven by the prevalence of the new coronavirus strain in the UK.

Over recent weeks a concerted push to get as much lamb exported to the continent as possible before the Brexit transition period ended had supported prices. However the news of the disruption to shipments saw an immediate fall in demand for export types, with many processors who had been aiming to beat the deadline pulling out of the market.

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But while the move saw some markets in England advising consignors not to present lambs due to the lack of buyers, auctioneers in Scotland were reporting that prices remained relatively stable – albeit due to reduced numbers forward:

“The sales which have been going ahead as normal in Scotland today (Monday) still seem to be pretty good,” said president of the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland and UA director, Donald Young.

He said that a considerable number of lambs had been bought over the past six to eight weeks to fulfil export orders but many farmers who had heard the news of the situation in trading with France had decided to hold back from presenting sheep on Monday:

“And with numbers tight and a fairly strong home market at the moment prices bore up well.”

The organisation’s executive director, Neil Wilson added that there was likely to be considerable volatility around demand and prices in coming weeks – but advised farmers to stay in touch with their local auction marts and auctioneers who would do their best to guide them through the uncertainties that the start of 2021 was likely to bring.

The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers said that while many other commercial goods caught up could wait, or return to base, meat products had a limited shelf life:

SAMW president, Andy McGowan said that it was too early to know if any produce would have to be destroyed – but he said operators would treat consumer safety as an absolute top priority.

Hoping that the disruption would be a “temporary blip”, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said that the issue highlighted the importance of securing a trade deal with the EU.

And he said that even if a deal was agreed there was a need for a six month ‘period of grace’ which would allow both the authorities and exporters time to get used to new regulations and requirements.

The National Sheep Association said that the sheep sector had been preparing for months for the end of the transition period – but added that it was “unexpected and frustrating “ that the ‘cliff edge’ had been brought forward by 10 days.