Grimsby fish market boss distances himself from port exemption proposal

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 18 Dec 2017

SPLITS have emerged in the town’s seafood industry after Grimsby’s fish market boss told MPs he did not agree with proposals for a free trade exemption for seafood after Brexit.

Martyn Boyers, chief executive of Grimsby Fish Dock Enterprises – a key figure in the town’s fishing industry – said there was “no substance or justification” to the idea of south Humber ports having their own free trade status.

He made the comments while giving evidence to MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on Wednesday about the impact Brexit could have on UK fisheries.

In recent weeks, cluster group Seafood Grimsby & Humber – representing 75 members in the multi-billion pound industry who employ more than 4,000 workers – have been meeting with ministers and Westminster politicians to discuss ways of ensuring fresh fish does not face import or export taxes after Brexit.

With the town’s big seafood processors importing 90 per cent of the fresh fish that they turn into plate-ready food – such as fish fingers and battered cod – tariffs could see the cost of their operation rise considerably.

One idea – ridiculed by some remain supporters – is for Grimsby and Immingham to become free ports after Brexit, meaning designated areas around the docks would be classified as zero-tax for incoming and outgoing goods.

However, Mr Boyers used his appearance before MPs in Parliament to distance himself from the proposal.

Quizzed by Grimsby-born MP Angela Smith, who represents Penistone and Stocksbridge in South Yorkshire, the Labour politician said she’d heard her home town had “asked for free trade status within a European Union deal”.

But Mr Boyers replied: “Some people [have], not me.”

Read more: Free trade deal could bring prosperity back to Humber, but at what price?

MP Mrs Smith – who had to declare an interest because her uncle is a freeman of Grimsby with a “small financial interest” in the land around the docks and Freeman Street – asked whether the fish market boss could “outline what the reasoning is behind” the free ports idea, which she described as finding “quite odd”.

Mr Boyers said: “I don’t know the reasoning because I wasn’t involved in the announcement.

“I think there is no substance or justification for it at all because we are a UK fisheries. You can’t have Grimsby in isolation – we are part of the bigger thing.

“So I don’t go along with that at all, having us as a free trade port. That’s not going to work.”

Associated British Ports, which operates the ports on the Humber, is in favour of free ports – a concept Trade Secretary Liam Fox has confirmed he is looking into.

Yet Mark Simmonds, policy manager for the British Ports Association, told the committee it was his understanding that the possibility of setting up free ports in the UK had been dropped by the Government until after the EU trade talks were wrapped-up.

“On free ports, I know some of our members are very keen on it but others less so,” said Mr Simmonds.

“From what we understand it is not something that is being considered any more. We understand it is off the table and not something the government is considering until after a deal has been agreed.”

Read more: Brexit expert calls Grimsby 'free port' plans 'pie in the sky thinking'

Mr Boyers told the fisheries inquiry that he hoped the industry would be able to continue trading in the same way it does currently after Brexit, with fresh fish able to move quickly between European nations.

Any delays to fish coming into Immingham would mean it would be less valuable to buyers and also have less “shelf life” in supermarkets.

And he said any change to the current operation with Iceland could kill the fish market. Iceland is not in the EU but belongs to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) so trades freely with the UK.

It also carries out customs checks on the fish it exports to Immingham before it leaves port  in order to speed-up the process.

“For us in Grimsby, 75 per cent of our fish is imported from Iceland, who are non-EU,” Mr Boyers said.

“If that were curtailed for whatever reason then I think we’d struggle to continue.”

Read more: Today's main headlines from Humberbusiness.com 



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