18 March 2021

(S5O-05136) Brexit (Economic Impacts)

7. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what recent engagement it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding managing the economic impacts of Brexit. (S5O-05136)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Fiona Hyslop): The Scottish Government is deeply concerned by emerging evidence that Brexit is having a severe impact on the ability of Scottish businesses to trade effectively and competitively with the European Union, with lasting consequences for our economy.

Scottish Government ministers remain in regular contact with UK ministers about the economic impact of Brexit and are pressing for urgent support for businesses that are being adversely impacted. Most recently, together with UK Government ministers, I chaired a meeting of the Scottish business growth group, which heard from business, employer and employee representative organisations about the difficulties that are being caused by new trading arrangements and the need for further assistance.

Indeed, just a few hours ago, I had a similar meeting with Michael Gove and business organisations as part of the Brexit meeting series. The Scottish Government will continue to work hard to address problems and blockages where it is in our power to do so.

Stewart Stevenson: Has the cabinet secretary noted that the Office for Budget Responsibility suggests that there will be a 4 per cent drop in productivity compared with the position if we had stayed in the European Union and a temporary reduction in the first quarter of this year of some 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product? Is it now absolutely vital that the UK Government provides additional funding to the Scottish Government so that we can support the businesses that the cabinet secretary has just referred to and the workers who are employed in them?

Fiona Hyslop: Recent funding for seafood exporters and small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK is welcome, but piecemeal funding can at best provide only a temporary sticking-plaster, considering the sheer scale of the costs and losses that are emerging. We are making that very clear to the UK Government. The additional funding cannot address the core problem, which lies in the very thin nature of the deal. It is vital that the UK Government listens and responds to what we are telling it.

We hear that imports from France to the UK are down by 13 per cent, imports from Italy are down by 38 per cent and imports from Germany are down by 30 per cent, while exports from the UK to France are down by 20 per cent and exports from the UK to Italy are down by a staggering 70 per cent. It is clear that the UK Government’s trade statistics are, in addition to the statistics that we are hearing from other countries, telling it that there is a problem.

We remain ready to work with the UK Government on solutions. Productive proposals are being put forward. Its refusal to engage ignores the fact that the effects will be long lasting and dangerous for our businesses, our communities and our economy.

Presiding Officer, this is an opportunity for me to say to Stewart Stevenson that he has spoken in the Parliament very sensibly and informatively over many years and in many speeches. He has served his constituents well and has been a real driver for change, particularly on climate change. I thank him and wish him well in his retirement.

10 March 2021

(S5O-05101) Beef Farming (Brazil Memorandum of Understanding)

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the potential impact on beef farming in Scotland of a memorandum of understanding with Brazil. (S5O-05101)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism (Fergus Ewing): I have previously written to the UK Government on that matter, expressing strong concerns about any increase in imported beef through the Mercosur free trade agreement.

I am aware that the UK Government struck an agreement with Brazil last October to establish a joint agriculture committee to look at sanitary standards. Unfortunately, the UK Government has not engaged with us, despite standards in Scotland being our responsibility.

It is our belief that significant quantities of imported South American beef could have a damaging effect on Scotland’s highly acclaimed beef production, potentially undermining our high regulatory standards and impacting on domestic trade. Fundamentally, I cannot and would not support any increased quota.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is not simply a matter of sanitary standards and that the importation of hormone-treated beef from pastures in felled rainforest being shipped here to compete with our premium hormone-free Scotch beef is problematic on several levels, including that of climate change?

Fergus Ewing: Yes. I have said time and again that we would not tolerate any trade deal that allowed imports of hormone-treated beef. The Trade and Agriculture Commission, who I met on Monday, recommend that any trading partners wishing to import into the United Kingdom shall demonstrate equivalent production standards. That assurance from Tim Smith, the chief executive, was welcome. That should be implemented across all the UK’s trade deals, ultimately banning the import of hormone-treated meat.

(S5O-05095) Agriculture (Climate Change)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Does the minister agree that the additional funding of £5 million in the budget for agri-environment measures is very welcome? Can he outline other measures in the budget that will support our farmers to adapt their production methods so that they are more sustainable in the long term?

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Ben Macpherson): A third of common agricultural policy schemes provide funding to support farmers, crofters and land managers in addressing climate change and achieving wider environmental benefits. The 2020-21 budget includes £40 million to support agricultural transformation. That will be supplemented by the additional £5 million of capital funding.

To support that transition, there is an additional £3.9 million for the Farm Advisory Service to ensure continued provision of high-quality advice. After a number of years spent working for a fairer allocation for Scotland, the Bew funds, totalling £25.7 million, will also be provided to farmers, crofters and land managers to aid transition in 2021-22.

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