Examination of Witness

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 4 December 2018.

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Andrew Kuyk gave evidence.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 10:25, 4 December 2018

Q With no further ado, I welcome the representative of the UK Seafood Industry Alliance. Will you kindly introduce yourself for the record?

Andrew Kuyk:

Thank you, Mr Gray. My name is Andrew Kuyk. I am director general of the Provision Trade Federation, which is a food trade association, but as part of that role, I also represent the UK Seafood Industry Alliance, which represents UK fish processors and traders.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q We heard earlier about the problems with relative stability as a sharing basis. I know that in a former life you had a role in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when things such as relative stability were set up and principles such as the Hague preference were established. Could you explain to the Committee the genesis of the existing relative stability shares and why the UK ended up with a smaller share than has seemed appropriate?

Andrew Kuyk:

How long have you got?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

We have until 10.55, so let us try to keep it brief.

Andrew Kuyk:

This is going back into history. At the time, I was first secretary, fisheries, in the UK permanent representation in Brussels, so I was the desk officer for these negotiations. I will not go into it in too much detail, but Committee members may recall that we had already joined the EU by that stage. The common fisheries policy had to wait another four or five years; it was a lengthy and difficult negotiation. The background was that, at the time we joined, we did not have an exclusive 200-mile zone, although the concept existed. We joined the EU and became subject to what was known as the common pond. There was equal access within that, save for some coastal rights under the London convention. Also, prior to the CFP, fisheries were managed by things such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries CommissionNEAFC. There was a concept of high seas and so on. Total allowable catches and quotas, as a management instrument, were familiar, but they were not done within the EU, so we had to invent that system.

The reason why there is an apparent imbalance in some of the quota shares is that the negotiation was done with reference to what was called track record, which was the catches historically taken by the various component parts of the EU fleet. Prior to our joining, most of the fish that were relevant to our domestic market were fished off countries such as Iceland and Norway. We had what then was our distant water fleet—large vessels based in Hull and Grimsby that went quite far afield to get the main species on which our market depended. Therefore, our track record was on those vessels, in waters that were not immediately covered by the EU common pond.

Also at the time—this is going back some 30 years—there was not—

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Mr Kuyk, I am keeping a close eye on the clock and would be most grateful if you would restrict your remarks as much as you can.

Andrew Kuyk:

I will get there quickly now. The smaller vessels were not subject to logbooks and recording of catches. Our track record was good in relation to the bigger vessels, and the track record used for the decisions was going back 10 or 20 years prior to 1980. The track record for the smaller vessels was not so good. Therefore, one of the reasons why the quota shares do not necessarily reflect current realities is that they were backward-looking and based on partial data. That is the short answer to your question, Minister.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Thank you. Now I fast-forward to your current role. Most of your members import large quantities of cod, predominantly, from Iceland, Norway and even, I think, Russia, Finland and the Barents sea. Can you explain the nature of the preferential trade agreements we have with Iceland and Norway, and also the process of autonomous tariff rate quotas for other countries?

Andrew Kuyk:

Briefly, for the benefit of the Committee, we have what I term the supply paradox. Roughly two thirds of what we eat in this country, we import, and a lot of that is not from the EU. Some 80% of what is caught by UK vessels is exported, mainly to the EU. The reasons for that are largely to do with consumer choice. The main species consumed in the UK are cod, salmon, haddock, tuna, shrimps and prawns. Obviously, the tuna and most of the shrimps and prawns are not available in UK or EU waters. The salmon is largely aquaculture. On species such as cod and haddock, we are very far from self-sufficient. Our total consumption of cod in the UK is about three times the total EU TAC for cod, so we are about 10% self-sufficient in cod.

We import that raw material because that is the market demand. A lot of that does not come from the EU, but a lot of it comes via the EU, which complicates the trade statistics. The Minister has referred to the autonomous tariff quota system—ATQs. This system is a regulation that normally runs for three years. It recognises that the EU, not just the UK, is a deficit market in fish. That relativity—about two thirds imports—applies to the EU market as a whole, so the EU recognises that the fish to meet consumer need are not available under its jurisdiction. Although there is an external tariff, it has these autonomous tariff quotas. Specified quantities are admitted, either tariff-free or at a reduced tariff, and they are negotiated on a three-yearly basis. We are just about to conclude the next agreement, which will run for only two years, rather than three.

Most of those imports come in through some kind of preferential arrangement. We pay some tariffs on some of them. There is the complication of trans-shipment through the EU; some of those are landed in, say, Rotterdam, Bremerhaven or wherever and then come to us as part of free circulation within the single market.

In summary, imports come through a variety of arrangements; some come as a result of the EU-Norway agreement. Various agreements are in place that give us the benefit of significant tariff reductions. Those are necessary, because otherwise we would not be able to supply market demand in the UK.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Finally, leaving aside shellfish and some of the species that we export for which tariffs are quite low, and looking specifically at your members who predominantly process highly processed cod products, what proportion of their production is re-exported to the EU, and what proportion of those highly processed products is sold in the UK?

Andrew Kuyk:

I am not sure I would use the term “highly processed”. Quite a lot of it is things such as bread-crumbs; I do not know whether you regard that as a high degree of processing. It is to do with the presentation. These are consumer-ready, convenience products—fillets with some kind of coating. There is a growing line in ready meals—a meal opportunity: a fish product with vegetables and a sauce, and so on. Most of those imports are for domestic consumption, because we are a deficit market. There is some re-export. I do not have an exact figure, but I would imagine it is something like 10% or 15%—not more than that. The vast majority is to supply our domestic market.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q The Bill does not talk very much about processing. If we were to include an economic link for anyone catching fish under a UK quota, where more fish was landed in the UK ports, what would the impact of that be on the UK processing sector?

Andrew Kuyk:

It is difficult to say. Again, without going too much into the history, we used to have what I would call an end-to-end processing industry in the UK, where a whole wet fish would go in one end of the factory and a product would come out of the other. Over the years, that has become rationalised and specialised, and a lot of that first-stage processing now happens elsewhere. Some of it happens on board vessels, on factory ships. Some fish—I know this sounds anomalous, but it is sheer market economics—are sent to places such as China, where they are filleted, and come back as frozen blocks. The raw material for quite a lot of our processing industry at the moment is a pre-prepared product—it is not the fish straight from the boat.

That could be a problem on two or three different levels. It is a problem and an opportunity. Clearly, if there was more domestic supply available, the UK processing industry would do its best to cope with that, but that would require investment. I was listening to the earlier session. The front end of the processing factory does exist on a smaller scale in some parts of the country, but for the people who supply the vast volumes—a sort of 80:20 thing—that front end, the lines of people physically filleting the fish and so on, does not exist any more. To reinvent that, you would need the labour, which I know is a tangential issue not to do with the Fisheries Bill, but it is a broader issue for the food industry in relation to Brexit—the supply of labour—and you need the skill. You need both the people and the skill, and you would need some physical investment in capacity, more storage, more chilling and so on.

It is not as if there is under-utilised capacity. It is a function of modern business that capacity matches throughput and the market, so there is not excess processing capacity waiting for new supplies of fish. It would have to be put in place. It would require money, people and skills. To invest the money, you would need a sound business case that could give you a projection of what your price and what your market share would be. The price, critically, would depend on what your broader trading relationship was—tariffs and currency—and what the competition was. It is quite a complex jigsaw, but the short answer is that there is not significant under-utilised capacity that, at the flick of a switch, could suddenly cope with an influx of domestically caught fish.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Before we go on, Mr Grant looks as if he has a question on this particular point.

Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Q The processing industry accounts for more than 50% of those employed in the fishing industry as a whole. Is there anything in the Bill that gives you concern that the security of those 14,000-plus jobs could be affected, or is there anything that gives you concern about the supply of fish, which is essential to secure the jobs? Is there anything in the Bill that concerns you in relation to job security and the security of the supply of fish?

Andrew Kuyk:

I think not, in the sense that those are not areas that are covered in the Bill. It does not cover trading relationships or the kinds of issues that you are raising. From our point of view, is that a significant omission? Not necessarily, because my understanding of the Bill is that it is a piece of framework legislation, which gives the Government the necessary tools to manage fisheries in the UK and the marine environment, in a changed legal situation where we become a sovereign coastal state. It is the tool box for the management of fisheries. It does not address those issues. Do we have concerns about those issues? Yes, we do, but I am not sure that the Bill is the appropriate place for those concerns to be addressed.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q I was just going to say that I think you are underselling the success story of British fish processing. I think the vast majority of our jobs in fishing are in processing. If more fish were landed, there would be a commensurate increase in potential jobs in processing. Earlier, you mentioned statistics about how much fish we export and how much fish we import, because there does seem to be an imbalance there. I do not think it is widely understood that we mainly export the fish we catch and import the fish we eat.

Andrew Kuyk:

It is because they are not the same species.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q Exactly. What are the complications? What situations would you want referenced in the Bill to ensure that there is easy and free trade in those fish products? I imagine that any tariff could have quite an impact on the level of trade across our boundary. Is there anything that needs to be included in the Bill to give fish processors the confidence that they need to invest in more facilities in UK ports and elsewhere?

Andrew Kuyk:

I am not a parliamentary draughtsman, and I am not sure it is relevant to the subject of the Bill. I suppose it would be possible for the Government to include a trade section in the Bill. One of the things that unites the people I represent and your previous witnesses is that we do not think there should be a link between trade, access to waters and quotas. We think those are separate issues. I know, Mr Gray, that you do not want to go too near Brexit and the backstop, but there is a relevance, given that in the backstop you have a carve-out in article 6 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which exempts fish and fishery products from the single customs territory that would otherwise apply in the backstop, so there is the potential for tariffs to be imposed on UK exports.

To recap, the main things we catch are things like herring, mackerel and shellfish, for which there is not great demand on our domestic market—people prefer cod, tuna and salmon—but there is a good market in the EU. In that succession of hypotheses if there is not an agreement and we come into the backstop, UK exports would potentially face significant tariff barriers. There may be opportunities elsewhere, but that would have a significant impact on the trade. I genuinely do not know how you would guard against that in the Fisheries Bill.

In terms of our access to the raw materials we need, we have the ATQ system and the benefit of some EU trade agreements with third countries. Again, I do not know how you make a reserve carve-out and preserve that position in the Fisheries Bill. That would be our aspiration. As processors, we want free and frictionless trade, like any other part of the food industry. That is our headline message: free and frictionless trade. The deal on the table—the political declaration—holds out the prospect of free trade. That would be very good.

The friction will depend on the degree of regulatory alignment. Fish fall into the category of products of animal origin, to which certain special rules apply in the EU. As a third country, things would have to go through a border inspection post, and so on. Clearly, for a highly perishable fresh product, any increase in the degree of inspection control is potentially detrimental if it leads to delay. Even if the product is not spoiled, its commercial quality and its value will have reduced.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

We have 10 minutes for five questions. Let us be quick.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

You said that 80% of our exports go to the EUQ .

Andrew Kuyk:

We export 80% of what we catch. The majority of that goes to the EU.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

Q Is there any scope for increasing exports outside the EU?

Andrew Kuyk:

That is not really within my area of responsibility, because we are processors and traders. Quite a lot of that is exported as fish; it is not processed. You could argue from first principles that, as a UK industry, we should be getting more added value from that. Some of that fish is landed directly in EU ports. Although there is a market for that, you could argue that there would be greater economic benefit if we could get some of that value added and export.

There clearly are markets elsewhere in the world. We are a deficit market. Just a bit of propaganda for the fish industry: fish is a healthy, nutritious product, and is a renewable resource if managed properly and sustainability. There are a lot of people in the world for whom fish is their sole source of protein. There is a big demand for fish in the global trade, so there will be opportunities there, but as in any kind of market, it depends on how competitive you are. For the sorts of export that we have at the moment, which are predominantly fresh exports, not processed products, you have obvious barriers of distance. You would have to do something to make it a product that you could sell further afield. There is potential there, but going back to my earlier point it would require investment and to make the investment there has to be a sound business case.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Q The Faroe Isles require boats fishing in their waters to land their catches in their ports, therefore benefitting their fish processing industry. Do you envisage similar provisions in the Bill to make that arrangement for Scottish ports?

Andrew Kuyk:

I think that harks back to an earlier question. There is no surplus processing capacity to do that at the moment. You could legislate for what people have to do, in terms of where they land things, but I do not think you can legislate for how the processing industry or investors would respond to that opportunity. They might or they might not.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Q As a supplementary, clause 28 mentions a grant scheme, which may be an opportunity.

Andrew Kuyk:

Clearly, that would help solve the investment problem. Again, it would not be for me to pronounce on the use of public funds in that way for a particular sector of a particular industry, but if the Government chose to make grants available to do that, clearly that would help the business case for those kinds of investment.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

Q I have anecdotal evidence that Dutch fishermen are currently catching about 80% of their small pelagic species in UK waters, and about 90% of that is being exported, with minimal processing, straight to west Africa. What can we do in this country to essentially cut out the middleman and make sure that the UK fleet is able to catch, land and export straight to these third countries?

Andrew Kuyk:

Again, that is straying outside my territory as representing processors and traders. Your previous witnesses would be involved in that. Without going into the history too much, the Committee will be generally aware of the ability of people to buy quota and so on; it was freely sold and it was freely acquired. That is the way that the market has operated up until now. Clearly, were more quota available it would be possible for the UK fleet to seek to exploit these value added opportunities and, as you say, to cut out the middleman.

It would not necessarily be my members who would be involved in that at the outset, because that it is not business that we are currently involved in. The people who export those pelagics are not my members; it is the large pelagic companies on the catching side of the industry. It is done with minimal processing and minimal value added. I think that is a missed opportunity for UK plc, but I am not sure how much you can legislate for that. If you provide a framework that is conducive to that, then clearly business will step in with the right incentives and will do its best to take advantage of those possibilities.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

Q Going back to what you said earlier about how the majority of our exports go to the EU, do you have any data on how much we export to the EU that is just minimally processed and further exported to third countries?

Andrew Kuyk:

I do not have an exact figure, but I imagine that a clear majority of that would have no or minimal processing.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

You mentioned earlier the import of cod from the Barents sea, Russia, which is obviously outside the EU and the European economic area. What sort of friction is there in bringing that into the UK market, in comparison with what might be experienced in the future.Q

Andrew Kuyk:

Virtually none, in the sense that quite a lot of this stuff is transshipped through other countries, as I have already explained. If it comes in to us through the tunnel there is no friction at all, as it has already entered the single market, so any formalities—border inspection and any controls—have taken place elsewhere. The same is true of some fish that comes from Norway; some of that comes overland into Sweden on lorries. It is not quite just-in-time in the same sense as in the automotive industry, but there is a narrow window—something like 48 hours maximum—for getting those lorries through and into the UK market. At the moment, that is frictionless.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

Q Do we import any fish from outside EU markets?

Andrew Kuyk:

Yes, and we have some stuff that is landed directly in the UK. There are well tried and trusted systems, and any necessary adaptations have already taken place. We have the facilities to cope with fish that are landed directly in the UK—from Norway, Iceland or anywhere else—because that is established trade. It is well run-in, it functions smoothly and it is not a problem. My general answer is that at the moment we do not have friction either through the EU route or directly. There are controls and rules that have to be complied with, but there are tried and trusted systems. The relevant capacities for handling at ports and for storage are all there for existing trade.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q I have a quick question. On supply chain fairness, there have been concerns in the media about the involvement of modern slavery in the employment practices of foreign food processors. Can you give a sense of what the UK processing sector is doing to ensure that no fish in our system are processed or caught using methods of modern slavery?

Andrew Kuyk:

We certainly recognise that that is an issue in global supply chains. I think that both our members and our retail customers do their utmost through due diligence and audits to try to ensure that our own supply chains do not suffer from that. This is an issue in the textile industry and others; it is not restricted to the food industry. Part of our industry’s overall corporate responsibility is not just sustainability of the resource, but ethics and employment practices. That is part of the sustainability agenda of all major processors and retailers, and we do everything that we can to ensure that poor practice is eliminated.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q So an objective in the Bill to ensure supply chain fairness—to ensure that there are no practices like modern slavery going on—would not be an obstacle to your sector operating?

Andrew Kuyk:

No. As you said, there is already modern slavery legislation. Companies over a certain size must have policies in place. We would have no difficulty with that. Obviously there are some practical issues in supply chains in terms of tracing things back and assigning responsibility. On the aquaculture side—without going off at too much of a tangent—the fish feed might come from less well-regulated fisheries, but those are known problems in the industry and people are doing all in their power to tackle them, including using the commercial power not to source from areas where there is dubious practice. There is also the EU regulation on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, which I know we will wish to continue. There is no social chapter in IUU, but that is part of the approach to ensure that things are sustainably and ethically sourced.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Mr Kuyk, I thank you very much for your most learned, well informed and well expressed evidence, which will be extremely useful to the Committee.