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Brexit impact ripples across Britain to oysters, wine and cheeseExBulletin

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HOST AILSA CHANG:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed that the UK will prosper mightily by leaving the European Union.

(SOUND PRESENTATION OF THE ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make it a titanic – a titanic success. So thanks.

CHANG: But for UK food importers and exporters, Brexit so far looks like an iceberg. Barely three months later, it increased their costs and threatened their businesses.

NPR’s Frank Langfitt traveled across England and Wales for The Indicator, Planet Money’s daily business podcast, to see how Brexit is affecting oysters, wine and cheese.

(SOUND PRESENTATION FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JONATHAN BAILEY: I’m going to be very, very wet. These are not leaks (ph). It’s just rainwater.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It’s just rainwater.

BAILEY: Yeah.

LANGFITT: It’s a cold, drizzling morning in Cornwall, South West England, and I’m helping Jonathan Bailey refloat his boat. Jonathan is an oyster farmer, but these days his oyster boat is mostly anchored offshore.

So since Brexit, how many times have you been out?

BAILEY: Not a lot.

LANGFITT: That’s because leaving the European Union triggered environmental rules that make it much harder for British fishermen like Jonathan to sell oysters in Europe, which is pretty much his entire market, leaving him and more than 40 fishermen and women here mostly out of work this season. I asked how this might affect them in the long run.

(SOUND PRESENTATION FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BAILEY: I’m 66 years old. I wonder if this is the time to say the end.

LANGFITT: How do you feel about not fishing anymore?

BAILEY: I would be very, very, very, very upset.

LANGFITT: To understand how Brexit is crushing oyster exports, I met Martin Laity, owner of Sailor’s Creek Shellfish. He has been buying and exporting Jonathan’s catch for three decades.

MARTIN LAITY: We sell our oysters – or have done so – to Brittany and to French traders. They sell it under the Breton or Norman flag.

LANGFITT: Before Brexit, when the UK was inside the European Union, Martin seamlessly shipped his oysters to Europe, where they were cleaned to remove pollutants from English waters. But now, because the UK is outside the EU, UK oysters have to be cleaned here before they go to Europe. Now that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you’re in the oyster business it’s because it adds costs. And as soon as the oysters are cleaned, Martin says there are only 48 hours left to put them on the plates in Europe before they spoil.

LAITY: We’ll be writing a lot of credit memos for mortalities. This week we have 10% mortality.

LANGFITT: Which means Martin is losing hundreds of dollars per shipment on dead oysters. This and other changes due to Brexit have hurt the fish and shellfish industry. British Treasury figures show the sector’s exports to the EU fell by around 80% in January over a year.

LAITY: Our turnover has fallen by 97%. I mean, we can’t go on for eight months like this. We laid off all our staff, our drivers.

LANGFITT: The government has blamed the sharp drop in food and drink exports to the EU on pre-Brexit storage, COVID restrictions and businesses adjusting to the new trade relationship. UK officials say volumes are already rebounding, and Boris Johnson called the disruption of the fish trade start-up problems and said the government will compensate companies if it’s not their fault.

(SOUND PRESENTATION OF THE ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: But without a doubt, there are great opportunities for fishermen across the UK to take advantage of the UK’s spectacular marine wealth.

LANGFITT: Brexit doesn’t just hit shellfish exporters like Martin. It also created a mountain of paperwork for wine importers like Daniel Lambert.

(SOUND PRESENTATION FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DANIEL LAMBERT: So this is our little warehouse.

LANGFITT: Daniel brings tens of thousands of cases of European wine every year. In the good old days, just a few months ago, Daniel says importing was easy.

(SOUND PRESENTATION FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LAMBERT: Before, we only had to do one set of paperwork – very, very simple indeed.

LANGFITT: But now, because UK is outside the EU, there’s a lot more.

(SOUND PRESENTATION FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LAMBERT: I have to send the order to the producer. The producer then produces a pro forma invoice, which he sends back to me. On the pro forma invoice …

LANGFITT: Daniel continued for over a minute, describing the avalanche of confusing rule forms. The cost for each new set of documents ranges from $ 38 to $ 90.

(SOUND PRESENTATION FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LANGFITT: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you like this new system?

LAMBERT: (Laughs) About zero.

LANGFITT: Daniel says some small retailers won’t be able to afford the new papers, so they’ll order fewer varieties of wine. And some of those administrative costs will be passed on to consumers.

(SOUND PRESENTATION FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LAMBERT: The price of a bottle of wine, I see right now, you’re talking about almost two dollars per bottle.

LANGFITT: And they will have less choice.

LAMBERT: That’s right, but it’s Brexit.

LANGFITT: When the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, it meant moving away from an exclusive shopping club, giving up free access to a market of over 500 million consumers. Brexiteers told companies at the time they would still enjoy unfettered access to European markets, but David Henig, a London-based business analyst, said the problems businesses now face were all over the place. predictable fact.

DAVID HENIG: It’s normal in world trade that there are such checks and balances. What was abnormal was the UK’s previous relationship with the EU, the nature of that integrated market, and then the UK’s departure. The lesson from Brexit is that you can’t have your cake and eat it.

LANGFITT: Which UK industries are doing well with Brexit?

HENIG: There will be isolated winners in this area, but in general there will be more losers. We see the stories of people struggling, not the stories of people finding new opportunities.

LANGFITT: But some savvy businessmen have found ways to capitalize on Brexit issues, at least for now. Simon Spurrell runs the Cheshire Cheese Company in the North West of England. Here, he shows me his cows at the time of milking.

(SOUND PRESENTATION FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SIMON SPURRELL: Cows have a very good life. They normally roam the 200 acres of fields around here, pastures to wander around all day. So that’s lovely.

(MOOING COW PIECE)

LANGFITT: Simon exported cheese to Europe smoothly and cheaply. But now, because of Brexit, he has to pay $ 250 for a veterinary certificate for every cheese order, which he says will cost him $ 350,000 in lost sales this year. Simon shared his troubles on Twitter and his compatriots came to his rescue. They started buying his cheese like never before. And in the first two months of this year, sales of Simon’s cheese in the UK have increased 900%.

(SOUND PRESENTATION FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SPURRELL: We actually ended up with a wave of nationalist cheese buying frenzy over there.

LANGFITT: How long do you think this will last?

SPURRELL: I don’t see it as a sustainable model. We cannot continue to shout every week, buy Brits, buy Brits.

LANGFITT: Back in Cornwall, Martin Laity, the seafood wholesaler, is adjusting as well.

LAITY: We have made great adjustments to our business to sell more and more in the UK. We started dreaming of ideas to have a local food market. We started to think about selling more directly to the public.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Good luck (ph).

LAITY: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Very good.

LANGFITT: It’s Martin’s Saturday market. Right here he sells scallops and mussels – next door, fish. We have pastries, fresh bread here, vegetables.

But no matter how much Martin sells in his new market, he can’t come close to making up for what he’s lost in Europe. Martin says that three months later, Brexit is a cautionary tale.

LAITY: May this be a lesson for all the nations of the planet. This is a con beyond belief. And there is more to come. What we are going through now is just the beginning of the beginning.

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Cornwall, England.

(PIECE OF MUSIC)

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