LONDON — Loaded with tons of live crab, lobster and prawns, the trucks headed south from the Scottish town of Oban had to reach their destination in Spain within 72 hours to be sure the cargo would survive the trip.
But with Britain operating new post-Brexit trading rules, a journey that used to be routine is now a high-stakes gamble for the exporter Paul Knight, managing director of PDK Shellfish.
“It is like roulette,” said Mr. Knight, as he waved off two giant trucks, adding that though he spent tens of thousands of pounds on Brexit preparations he remained terrified that holdups in French ports could cause a large part of his shipment to perish.
“We are as Brexit-ready as we can be and we are still staring failure in the face,” he said.
“I am exhausted, the pressure is so intense — it is like being on a knife edge,” he added.
Since Britain completed the final stage of Brexit on Jan. 1 and left the European Union’s single market and customs union, the world has changed for British exporters to the continent and not in a good way.
Despite a trade deal, struck by Britain and the European Union on Christmas Eve, promises once made by Brexit campaigners that leaving the bloc would free companies from needless bureaucracy now sound like a macabre joke. Consignments that previously moved with minimal fuss now need voluminous paperwork including customs declarations and, for food products, health certificates.
Some British companies have suspended sales to continental Europe and even to Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom although it now has a special customs status because of its land border with Ireland, a European Union member state.
The complications pose a particular threat to Scottish seafood exporters, many of whom rely on the European market because, they say, there is no similar demand at home.
Before dispatching a truck load of live crabs, Colin Anderson and three colleagues devoted an entire day to completing the new paperwork. Even that left him struggling to secure one last document needed to move more than three tons of crab to the Netherlands.
“We thought we were on top of it, but we still don’t have all the documentation,” said Mr. Anderson, managing director of The Crab Company (Scotland), based in Peterhead, as he debated which route to choose for his consignment.
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, a trade organization, said the new system was “red tape gone crazy.” There are, he added, “so many certificates required, and if they are not all aligned 100 percent, even if it’s a clerical error, the system rejects it.”
For companies that were already reeling from the coronavirus and a collapse in demand from the hospitality trade, the arrival of new trade rules has come as a sucker punch.
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