SCOTTISH foods that are sold in Europe could be hit by a 50%-plus price hike following Brexit, it has been warned. James Withers, the CEO of the industry body Scotland Food and Drink, spoke about the impact leaving the EU could have on the sector – particularly if the UK fails to agree a trade deal.

The food and drink sector – which is worth £15 billion a year to the Scottish economy – has been “haunted” by the “spectre of a No-Deal Brexit” since the EU referendum in 2016, Withers said.

He warned that if the UK fails to reach an agreement with the remaining 27 EU nations on trade in the coming months, then this could linger on.

For the UK’s transition period to be extended beyond the end of 2020, work would need to get under way in the summer – and Withers says that leaves the UK with a “little over 20 weeks to frame a trade deal with the EU”.

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“In other words, we’re in search of a miracle,” he said.

Withers, speaking ahead of a Brexit breakfast event in Edinburgh being hosted by law firm CMS on Tuesday, said: “The spectre of a No-Deal Brexit has haunted Scotland’s farming, food and drink industry since 2016.

“It feels like the very thing we feared and have been told has been avoided may now be facing us at the end of 2020.”

Withers said that even if a deal could be agreed, the UK Government’s “strategic shift” away from alignment with EU regulations has served to “kill off any hope of achieving frictionless trade or anything close to it”.

Withers warned: “Tariffs anywhere close to WTO levels could increase the price of our products in the EU market by more than 50%.”

He added: “Costly new checks and processes – and potentially tariffs on some of our food products – will act as a major new barrier to trade with our biggest single export market.

“Scotland sold £2 billion of food and drink to the EU last year, and with ingredient imports flowing the other way, the implications of barriers to trade cannot be overestimated.”

Withers stressed the importance of frictionless trade, particularly for perishable foodstuffs.

Around 7.5% of all sales of red meat from Scotland go to Europe, while exports to the EU make up a quarter of all lamb sales, the industry body said.

Withers said: “While seafood doesn’t face the same scale of tariff threat, additional bureaucratic costs and the associated risk of delays is a real concern.”

New trade agreements with countries outside of Europe could be the “silver lining to what looks like a very dark cloud” for the industry – with Scotland Food and Drink highlighting the work of Quality Meat Scotland to develop sales of red meat in places such as Canada, the US, China and Japan.

“While they won’t compensate for the loss of free trade with the EU any time soon, it is an area that could significantly strengthen Scotland’s global culinary reach,” Withers said.

He said trade deals could also pose risks, stressing it was vital “we do not engage in a global race to the bottom in the standards and protections we set for what we eat and drink”.

“Scotland’s food and drink sector has been forging a reputation for premium food and drink for decades and we should be setting the gold standard for animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety,” he said.