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Brexit threat to Island’s supply of fresh produce

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THE importation of fresh produce to Jersey is under ‘serious threat’ post-Brexit, a leading retailer has warned, as the Island’s farms and supermarkets consider stockpiling goods in case of a no-deal scenario.

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With parliament due to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal next Monday, businesses are preparing for the possibility that the flow of trade between the UK and EU could be seriously affected, particularly if her proposals are rejected.

Turmoil could be generated after ‘Brexit day’ on 29 March, as new customs checks would slow the delivery of freight from the continent, with a number of UK ports, such as Hull and Folkestone, preparing to take more imports if Dover struggles with capacity.

With Jersey largely relying on imports from the UK, retailers have warned that the Island would not be immune from disruption.

Channel Islands Co-op chief executive Colin Macleod said that the stockpiling of goods was ‘under active consideration’ by the supermarket.

‘We have been working closely with our supply chain for the last few months endeavouring to understand the potential implications of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU,’ he said.

‘We are optimistic that the effects, while they may be challenging, are manageable and we will continue to monitor the evolving negotiations, decisions and implications carefully.

‘As it stands we have not made a definite decision to stockpile food, although we are keeping the matter under active consideration.’

Tony O’Neill, chief executive of SandpiperCI which runs the Island’s Morrisons Daily and Marks and Spencer franchises, said that the Brexit situation was ‘very complicated’ and stockpiling would not prevent a potential shortage of fresh produce.

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‘We are in close contact with all of our food franchise partners who continue to develop plans to mitigate the potential impact of a “no deal” exit,’ he said.

‘Notwithstanding those embryonic plans, retailers can stockpile all they like but that won’t help the supply of fresh foods, which cannot be stockpiled due to their short shelf-life.

‘Areas like produce, heavily dependent on international supply at this time of year, will be under serious threat, as will many ingredients used in the preparation of fresh foods.

‘The one saving grace for the islands is that we are unlikely to be affected to any worse degree than the UK but only time will tell what that scale looks like.’

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A spokeswoman for Waitrose would not confirm whether they were stockpiling but confirmed that the supermarket chain was making preparations for Jersey as part of its Brexit plans.

‘We are planning for every potential Brexit outcome and this, of course, includes a focus on our product supply and distribution to the Channel Islands and the UK,’ she said.

Peter Le Maistre, president of the Jersey Farmers’ Union, said that local growers should be able to meet the Island’s demand for fresh produce if there were supply issues, but only until the autumn.

‘There will be plenty of potatoes by the end of April unless we have a terrible frost like we did last year,’ he said.

‘And our growers supply a lot of fresh produce to the local markets, so we should be able to provide most vegetables until October.

‘It is from October to May that the supermarkets import more produce from abroad, so if things are not sorted out by then, there could be problems.’

He added that the Island’s farmers have already been advised to stockpile certain goods in case of a no-deal scenario.

‘What we have said to growers is to make sure that they are stocked up on fertilisers and seeds before the end of March,’ he said.

‘The daffodil and potato season starts before March, so should not be affected. We have established freight routes so there is no reason to think that exports to the UK should be affected, but it might be slower at Portsmouth if more stuff is coming in there from the EU.’

Ian Heath

By Ian Heath
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