Brexit has cost Scotland up to £100 million-a-year in 'lost' salmon exports, the sector has warned.

MSPs will today hear of the financial impact on the industry of the UK pulling out of the European Union in January 2020 with farming companies reporting that they have since faced increased red tape and costs.

Scottish salmon is the UK’s largest food export and while in 2019, more than 53,000 tonnes of the product were exported to the bloc, the figure fell to 44,000 tonnes in 2023.

Export values to the EU were only down 3% to £356 million because strong global demand drove up prices, but if the sector had maintained volumes at 2019 levels, then sales would have been above £430 million. 

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Trade body Salmond Scotland say this means there has been a net ‘loss’ of around £75 million, or up to £100 million had the sector grown at the rate previously expected.

The Brexit impact has been mitigated by huge growth in other markets, particularly Asia and the US.
Overall international sales in 2023 were up from £578 million to £581 million (+0.5 per cent), including a 7% increase to the US and 22% to Asia.

However, with salmon increasingly popular in traditionally smaller European markets such as the Netherlands and Spain, smoother trade flow and new markets would open up the possibility of further economic growth – generating greater investment in the Scottish economy and more high-skilled Scottish jobs, the sector argued.

The Brexit impact of lost sales does not include the direct £3 million-a-year cost to farming companies because of the lack of an e-certification scheme.

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Chief executive of Salmon Scotland, Tavish Scott, will today address MSPs on the constitution, Europe, external affairs and culture committee as part of their inquiry into the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). The agreement is up for review after the General Election.

Calling for the next UK Government to take urgent action, he will highlight the challenges facing salmon farmers post-Brexit, including: 
•    Competitive disadvantage – there is still significant paperwork and processes which can lead to delays which may have knock-on impacts if consignments are delayed. 
•    The lack of a new eCertification for export health certificates (EHCs), and issues with the current outdated system, which costs salmon farming companies £3 million-a-year.
•    Border Control Posts (BCPs) which come into force in April this year, bringing in a raft of new import requirements for the feed sector. 
•    Bulk exports – improved technologies which are openly in use across the UK would benefit EU customers and consumers through reduced costs and environmental emissions via the use of larger bulk packaging.
•    Veterinary agreement – the sector is calling for the UK and EU to create a bespoke and mutually convenient Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement which returns efficiencies to supply chains on both sides of the Short Straits to help consumers and businesses in both territories.

Speaking ahead of his committee appearance, Mr Scott said: “Scottish salmon is the UK’s largest food export and a major contributor to our economy, with demand rising at home and abroad.

“And despite soaring sales to Asia and the US, the EU is still the most significant region for our exports, accounting for more than 60 per cent of international sales.

“The world-renowned quality of nutritious low-carbon Scottish salmon means that we could significantly grow markets such as Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.

“But Brexit red tape continues to hold back the potential of Scottish exports, despite the hard work and investment put in by farmers to address the issues.

“We need the next UK government – whatever formation it is – to ease the burden on exporters so that sectors like ours can sell more Scottish produce, delivering economic growth and creating jobs here at home.”

Salmon exports sales were up from £578m in 2022 to £581m (+0.5%) in 2023, according to figures from HMRC. In 2019, the export value was £618m. 

In 2023, EU sales were down 3% to £356m, and volumes were down 17%. However, US sales were up 7% to £140m, and exports to Asia were up 22% to £70m. 

Scottish salmon exports were higher than the UK's second largest food export, Cheddar cheese, as well as other popular British products like lamb and beef. 

The UK’s relationship with the EU is governed by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). The TCA entered into force in May 2021 and there is provision in the agreement for a joint review of the implementation of the agreement five years after its entry into force.

The UK Government have been approached for comment.