For me, it’s quite an interesting picture and my own experience encapsulates I think the sheer folly of the whole disaster capitalist project and makes me shake my head at the wholly avoidable worry and stress. And in the middle of a pandemic. An act of wicked, unconscionable, wanton vandalism that will take generations to repair.
I’m based in Lochans, near Stranraer. The basic facts are these. The limited company is called Biocell Agri Ltd. We supply live yeast based products for animal feed across the UK. We also supply these products, along with silage and slurry inoculants and animal health products to the same market, but also supply Ireland and other EU countries.
You can see where this is going.
Taking our yeast products as an example, we source the main ingredient – the live strain of yeast – from a company called Lesaffre in Lille in Northern France. The agricultural arm of the company (Phileo) is based in Shannon, Co Clare, Ireland.
So far so good, but now it gets interesting.
As France and Ireland are in the EU, it’s an easy job. Ireland simply ‘phones France and gets the stuff delivered. However, the contract manufacturer is in Brexit Britain (Devon, more precisely). So a 15% tariff is likely, and at some point I’m going to either absorb some or all of that or pass on some or all of that to my loyal customer base. It’s not a conversation I’m looking forward to having but, equally, it’s not one that can be avoided indefinitely.
The contractors are, rightly, concerned. As far distant as six months ago, I was asked to pay for a chunk of stuff up-front, having previously had thirty days of credit. Which is fine but I’m hardly about to ask for up-front payment from my farmers, who of course don’t get paid up front for their milk or their beef or their lamb. Ultimately, the primary producer gets shafted. It was ever thus. And of course next year I’ll be paying up front plus 15%. At this rate I’ll be looking back at the halcyon days of 2020 with warm nostalgia.
A question you might be asking is: why not buy your yeast in the UK? Well, I would if I could. But nobody in the UK makes the stuff. In fact, the place in Lille produces around 40% of the world’s yeast. Just think about that. Four out of every bread loaves. Four out of ten pints of beer. Cheese, wine; even crisps. When you visit the place you hand over your passport. Food security is the biggest existential threat facing the world. Covid barely registers in comparison.
The invisible beauty of the single market is that not being able to produce something as essential as yeast isn’t a problem. It is now, though. Although my password will be blue, so it’s all good.
Going back to the Ireland thing, Phileo also have a warehouse north of Belfast and we have a distributor in Antrim supplying the products to people on both sides of the border. With NI effectively remaining within the ESM that ought to continue. But, even then, we have to get the product from Devon to NI. It’s not impossible that we’d then be looking at another 15% tariff, on top of the original 15% tariff. It may be that to look after the Ireland farmers we simply move some of our contract manufacturing to Dublin or Cork. These truly are uncharted waters and all things are on the table.
The truth is that the whole point of Brexit is borders, and borders have to go somewhere. And one of these borders is the Irish Sea and North Channel. Which is where I live.
So one of the things I’ve done with Brexit in mind is register myself as a GB representative for the import of Phileo’s feed stuffs into the UK. Phileo need to do this to comply with the Feed Standards Authority, because (as we’ve seen) they’re in the EU and we, very soon, won’t be. This will at least allow trade between GB and NI to continue and ensure compliance with requirements at least equivalent to those laid down in required EU law. Which rather begs an obvious question. What exactly is the point of leaving the EU?
So these are the things that keep me awake most nights. To be honest, I don’t feel optimistic, or even particularly well. I really just wish Scotland would be done with this, declare itself independent and rejoin an organisation that it never wished to leave.
But who knows what is coming?
At this time of the year I’m looking forward to attending and speaking at Burns Suppers. Although Covid means there won’t be any in 2021, the lines of my favourite Burns open, To A Mouse, say everything about how helpless we all are when it comes to the future and our shared destiny.
“But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!”
As 2020 draws to a close, I guess and fear.
Perhaps we all do.
Alba gu bràth