French authorities are being urged to step up sanitary checks on British value-added seafood products entering the country as a tactic to pressure the British government to grant remaining fishing licenses at the heart of a post-Brexit dispute.
Such measures or non-tariff barriers (NTBs) have long been used by governments to slow down or impede the entry of goods from countries with which they have a dispute, or to protect domestic industries from competition.
Mareyage Boulonnais, the trade group representing primary processors in Boulogne-sur-Mer, continental Europe's largest seafood hub with an annual production of 130,000 metric tons annually, is in opposition to plans by French fishermen to blockade the entry of all seafood products into French ports, arguing that it would be counter-productive.
"Our firms need raw materials to work," Mareyage Boulonais secretary general Aymeric Chrzan told IntraFish.
"We urge the British and French governments to find a solution to allow everybody to work properly."
French fishermen are preparing to take action within days, including blocking road and sea freight bound for the UK through Calais and other Channel ports, as the months-long dispute over licenses to operate in British waters intensifies, The Guardian reported.
But primary processors see targeting British finished products with the full force of French phytosanitary controls as a way of exerting pressure on Boris Johnson's government without damaging their own businesses.
This could have consequences for smoked salmon and other British value-added products.
Scottish salmon producers have already been saddled with lower prices from European export customers amid delays in getting fresh product to market caused by the weight of paperwork and customs checks.
The fight over the number of fishing licenses granted to French fishing boats operating in British waters is a symbolic issue on both sides of the English Channel.
It erupted almost as soon as the United Kingdom left the European Union's orbit at the end of 2020.
It has been reported that around 80 percent of France’s permit applications have been resolved but that's not enough either for French fishermen or processors who are demanding their government take action to ease their plight.
Aside from lost quota under the EU-UK Brexit Free Trade and Cooperation (FTC) agreement reached in the closing days of 2020, French processors say supplies have been hit by the number of extra days vessels have been tied up in port, while the cost and complexity of post-Brexit import and export rules are also damaging.
Facing reelection in April next year, French President Emmanuel Macron is keen to retain the support of coastal communities, with his rival -- the far right candidate Marine Le Pen -- certain to try to take advantage of any perceived weakness in defending the seafood sector.
At the same time, the government of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to show it is living up to its pledge to control British waters following his Brexit trade deal, which came under fire from the UK fishing industry.
Earlier this month the UK seafood industry feared a fight over fishing rights with France would hit prices in the run-up to the vital Christmas selling period, when exporters typically expect brisk business and strong returns.
This came after France vowed to prevent UK vessels entering French ports where their catches are landed and sold on to lucrative markets in Europe including Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Although negotiators diffused a row over fishing licenses granted to French vessels operating in the waters of Jersey, a British dependency, tension mounted leading to reports of increased clearance times for UK fish consignments to get through customs as French authorities tightened the screw.
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