Nicola Sturgeon has said that perishable produce such as seafood must be prioritised if hauliers start moving freight across the Channel again on Wednesday.
French authorities have announced that journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume on December 23, after lifting the travel ban imposed on Sunday in response to fears about the spread of the more infectious strain of coronavirus.
However those seeking to travel must have a negative Covid test result.
Scottish exporters have warned that millions of perishable products are stuck waiting to enter France.
I agree with @scotfoodjames. We still await detail of the agreement, but if freight starts moving tomorrow – as we must hope it will – the plan to prioritise perishable produce such as seafood should be activated immediately. https://t.co/tfDmQHHrpz
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) December 22, 2020
James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, welcomed the news that the travel ban was being lifted as a “a first, positive step forward in 48 hours” but said priority must be given to perishable products.
He tweeted: “A critical issue will be what type of test the French will accept. Word is it might be the PCR test (which requires sent to a lab) rather than the lateral flow tests which give results quickly, on site. Difficult to see how that will allow the quick movements required.
“In addition, UK Government told us it has a prioritisation process for perishable products (eg seafood) as part of the process of managing Kent lorry queues.
“Was planned for Brexit disruption in nine days time. If freight starts moving tomorrow, it must be activated.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that she agreed with him.
#COVID19: "Planes, boats and Eurostar trains will resume service as of tomorrow morning. French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test" – French Minister Delegate for Transport: https://t.co/WWdzbczNP7
— French Embassy UK (@FranceintheUK) December 22, 2020
She wrote: “We still await detail of the agreement, but if freight starts moving tomorrow – as we must hope it will – the plan to prioritise perishable produce such as seafood should be activated immediately.”
More than 2,800 HGVs were stuck in Kent on Tuesday as a result of the disruption.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged lorry drivers not to head to the county in the hope of boarding a ferry or train.
French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri said: “Planes, boats and Eurostar trains will resume service as of tomorrow morning.
“French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test.”
Scotland’s Transport Minister Michael Matheson said he has spoken to Mr Shapps and been told that the UK Government has agreed that a Lateral Flow Test will permit drivers and other essential travellers to travel to France within 72 hours of a clear test.
He said: “The UK Government has informed us that they have a plan to deploy Lateral Flow Tests to drivers at locations in Kent where drivers are parked, and UK Ministers must now urgently prioritise those drivers with perishable goods, such as Scottish seafood and salmon.
“What has always been of concern is the impact on exporters, not least of Scotland’s premier food produce rightly in demand in Europe. This is their most critical time of year and the dismay caused by the uncertainty and length of delay has been avoidable and regrettable.
“Now we have clarity on the type of test required, the Scottish Government will work with the haulage industry and the NHS to explore how we can support drivers to take those tests in Scotland in the future, before beginning their journey.”
The French decision to ease its restrictions came after the European Commission recommended a joint approach from EU members in response to the mutant VUI 202012/1 coronavirus.
The EU-wide approach recommended by the commission would allow essential travel, and transit of passengers should be facilitated.
Ms Sturgeon has warned against panic buying, saying there is unlikely to be food shortages as a result of the stoppage.
Addressing MSPs in the Scottish Parliament earlier on Tuesday, the First Minister said: “I want to stress at the outset that we have no concerns about medicine supplies at this stage.
“And we have no immediate concerns about food supplies. Supermarkets are well stocked. And so there is absolutely no need for anyone to buy more than planned.”
However, she added: “Of course, if the situation is not resolved in the next day or so, we may start to see pressure on some fresh produce after Christmas – but that is not a concern right now and I hope it will not arise at all.”
Ms Sturgeon also said that the problem was most stark for Scottish food exporters – particularly the producers of seafood.
She said: “This is the peak time of year for seafood exports and the Christmas export trade is now almost certainly lost.
“This is devastating for our world-class seafood businesses and they need our support.
“We are liaising with the sector on the need for immediate financial support and I also raised the issue of compensation at Cobra yesterday.”