Ministers working with EU to solve delays to food exports – Wales Secretary

Sophie Morris and Lizzie Arnold, PA Political Staff
·3-min read

There is “an urgency” to solve some of the problems relating to delays involving food exports at the border, Simon Hart has said.

Faced with concerns about hold-ups that Welsh lamb exporters are experiencing in EU ports, the Wales Secretary told MPs that Michael Gove will be speaking to EU officials about the matter “later this week”.

Mr Hart also insisted the Government is “very seized of the challenges” currently facing the UK shellfish industry following the end of the transition period on 31 December.

During Wales departmental questions in the Commons, Conservative former minister Theresa Villiers raised her concerns about animal health export certificates.

Ms Villiers said: “The rules on international trade require SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) rules to be based on risk and science.

“So will the Government put immediate pressure on the European Union to lift the unreasonable compliance requirements that they are imposing on British food exports, because they are disproportionate given that our food standards and rules are amongst the very toughest in the whole world.”

Mr Hart replied: “I can offer that guarantee. We are in regular contact with our colleagues in the EU about this specific point and there are meetings later this week involving the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on this and related issues.”

Plaid Cymru MP Ben Lake added: “Lamb exporters in west Wales have raised similar concerns about the delays that they are facing in EU ports, reporting that some shipments have been held by customs officials for two to three days due to these supposed issues with animal health export certificates.”

Asked whether he expects an “urgent resolution to this problem”, Mr Hart replied: “I don’t know how urgent would be defined in the EU at the moment, but certainly there is an urgency to resolve some of these problems.”

Raising the issue of cockle gathering shadow Wales secretary Nia Griffith said: “Gatherers who are already alarmed at Defra advice that they could not resume the export of shellfish until April now feel not just forgotten, but utterly betrayed to discover that UK ministers knew all along that the EU ban on importing … UK shellfish would be indefinite.

“What urgent action will the Secretary of State and his Government take to facilitate the resumption of shellfish exports and save this traditional industry from disappearing forever?”

Mr Hart replied the Government was working to “make the distinction between teething issues which might be arising out of the particular subject she refers to and perhaps more permanent structural matters which may need a longer-term solution”.

He added that he could “assure” Ms Griffith and the shellfish industry “that we are very seized of the challenges that they currently face”.

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) raised concerns over the “ongoing uncertainty” of the financial settlement for Wales.

She said: “Almost a month has gone by and it seems that Wales is still waiting for a reply from the UK Government about our final financial settlement.

“This, of course, has created unnecessary doubt over the date of the Welsh budget. Welsh businesses and public services are enduring ongoing uncertainty over funding and this will handicap our response to the pandemic.

“Will the Secretary of State please explain what is the point of his office if he can’t even persuade his colleagues in the Treasury to speak to Welsh Government?”

Responding, Mr Hart said: “The relationship between the Treasury and Welsh Government, particularly around Covid recovery, has been daily if not hourly with vast sums of money being made available to businesses and individuals of Wales … very much in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation, and so I think rather than make sort of cheap political points she should acknowledge the fact that actually in these very difficult times the two Governments have actually worked quite well together.

“The Union, which is perhaps a point she doesn’t like me to make, the Union has been particularly crucial in that process.”