Much of the focus on the impact Brexit could have on Spanish exports to the UK has been on the concerns of fishermen in Galicia and Spanish service providers in Madrid and Barcelona.
But in the southeastern region of Murcia, exporters of fresh fruit and vegetables, for which the UK is a key market, are increasingly worried about a no-deal scenario.
In 2018, more than 517,000 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables for a total value of €580 million were exported to the UK from the small Spanish region, according to Juan Márin Bravo, president of Proexport, the Association of Producers-Exporters of Fruits and Vegetables of the Region of Murcia. That represented 23.2 per cent of all Murcian exports in the sector.
The United Kingdom is the number one market for Murcian exports of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages, with nearly a third of all exports of those vegetables going to the UK. Melons, watermelons and citrus fruits also constitute key exports to the UK. The United Kingdom is the second-largest export market for fruit and vegetables from Murcia after Germany.
More than 15,000 jobs (in a region with a population of less than 500,000) in the Murcian agricultural sector are directly linked to UK exports, according to Bravo. A no-deal Brexit would mean longer customs checks at border crossings and Murcian exporters – like their counterparts in the Netherlands, Italy, France, Denmark and Poland who export fresh food to the UK – are concerned that delays could spoil their product or that additional tariffs could push the UK to source the same products elsewhere.
- Will Britons resident in Spain still get healthcare after Brexit?
- Spain guarantees residency for 400,000 Brits even with Hard Brexit
- OPINION: Brexit month is finally here – or is it?
“There is a risk that the British market will change its conditions and, instead of opting for the quality of our fruits and vegetables, look for other suppliers in third party countries that are not committed to sustainability, respect for the rights of workers or innovation,” Juan Márin Bravo told The Local in an exclusive interview.
Bravo expects the UK to remain a strong export market for Murcian agricultural goods, although with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit still very real just 22 days from Brexit Day – currently March 29th – the organisation representing farmers in Murcia is making contingency plans.
Juan Márin Bravo, president of Proexport. Photo: Paco Alonso/Proexport.
“Proexport has recommended that a negotiation be established regarding the future non-tariff barriers that the United Kingdom may impose on the exports of Spanish fruits and vegetables,” Bravo told The Local. “There should not be any problems, since until now the United Kingdom applies the same phytosanitary requirements than the rest of the European Union, but everything depends on political will.”
Famous last words within the Brexit process. Yet that political will will be needed if the UK is to continue sourcing its fresh food from EU producers. As Bravo points out, a single day in delay at customs could mean many Murcian products spoil before they reach British storage facilities.
“We have requested that resources be expanded in the Spanish and British customs offices to avoid bottlenecks in the processing of future exports of the Region of Murcia. And for this, we ask that the UK enable an urgent route at the border for perishables or a fast track, which would allow us to maintain the current rate of exports of fruit and vegetables by road, as it is a product that deteriorates and cannot wait even one day at customs because it loses its freshness,” says Bravo.
Should the UK make it harder for Murcian fresh fruit and vegetable exports to reach British shores, Proexport's president says Murcian producers would be forced to explore new markets.
“We are working to diversify the destinations of our exports and are looking for new consumers in countries that appreciate our quality to make up for the possible loss of market share in the United Kingdom,” adds Bravo.
Nevertheless, the “goal is to continue selling to the British.” A no-deal scenario is still unimaginable in terms of magnitude to Murcian producers. “We do not have the idea in our heads that from March 30th the fluidity we have had so far in trade with the United Kingdom will be broken. We believe that measures must be put in place to prevent this happening,” adds Bravo. The clock is ticking.