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Blog 1 – Post Brexit export problems

Post Brexit export problems (Published: 2/2/22)

MacDuff 1890, a family business dating back to the 19th century, recounts its trading experiences in the post Brexit era.  Andrew Duff, Director, MacDuff 1890, writes:

Effectively, since 1 January 2021, we have been unable to export our products to our long established and loyal customers in the EU. Why is this you may ask, well in the run up to leaving the EU, the UK Government gave precious little consideration to the impact that moving to 3rd country status would have for smaller businesses like ours, who have to rely on grouping products together with other exporters into consolidated loads to help minimise transport costs.

It quickly became apparent, however, that such groupage was fraught with problems once we embarked on post Brexit trading. Huge issues arose in relation to our EU exports with the groupage method which worked so well before, suffering severe delays as physical and documentary checks were conducted on all vehicles when entering the EU.

Andrew Duff being interviewed for BBC Scotland report on export issues

The extra bureaucracy, red tape and paperwork involved in such exports, alongside the delays with border checks etc., made it uneconomic for us to continue shipping product into the EU at the time. Many companies we had previously used as hauliers to export via the groupage method into the EU, were then refusing to accept our goods as they faced the very real risk of getting stopped for hours, if not days, at the border.   And, just to rub salt into our wounds, we had to pay a vet to sign our export health certification, a step was added yet more cost to the process.

As we are a small business, we had to use groupage, as we cannot fill a whole wagon ourselves.  Larger businesses who could fill whole wagons, and so avoided groupage problems, have still experienced issues with Brexit, even though they were still managing to get product into the EU post Brexit.

Furthermore, due to us not having a distribution hub in the EU, delivering to individual addresses/butcher shops across different countries in the EU made it a severely difficult task. Towards the end of 2021 there was only one company that was successfully exporting products of animal origin from Scotland to the EU.

So, what did we do instead?

With the EU effectively a no-go area for business, we decided to diversify by branching out into retail last year. We successfully launched an upmarket butcher shop within the centre of Edinburgh last summer, which supports a lot of local suppliers as well as selling our prime beef, lamb, and pork. We have also started to ship products out to Hong Kong through a UK based company that has links with Hong Kong. This is proving an exciting venture.   However, the irony of being able to ship product halfway around the world but not to mainland Europe is not lost on us.

Is there any light at the end of the tunnel on the exporting front?

As of today, we finally have two companies that say they can potentially export smaller consignments to the EU. We are now working out costs and all the administration that surrounds this option so we can try get it set up and going again. So, potentially, MacDuff 1890 will soon be exporting its native breed beef to the EU again, although there are doubts at present as regards additional cost factors and the length of time since our customers have dealt with us. Whether or not they will be willing to pick this business up again, as easily as it was pre-Brexit, remains a key question.

Here’s hoping!