EU concerns over workability of UK’s new border proposal
Indications coming out of the European Union are pointing to some serious issues over the workability of the UK’s proposed Border Target Operating Model, which sets out how we will deal with imports into this country from overseas. Top of the list are concerns surrounding the lack of specific legislative texts, missing details on risk categorisation and Export Health Certificates, and a limited timeline for implementation.
One of the major points of contention is the absence of accompanying draft legislative texts reflecting the changes mentioned in the UK’s proposal. Given that these texts are still undergoing public consultation and only slated for finalisation by June 2023, a comprehensive understanding of the proposed measures is difficult at this stage.
The UK’s intention to implement certification requirements for medium-risk commodities from the EU as early as 31 October 2023 is also worrying. The argument here is that this decision poses challenges for competent authorities and businesses in the EU, who require adequate time to prepare and meet these requirements, which are not yet fully defined.
EU authorities will also be keen to know that, as decisions are made in the UK, any changes to SPS import conditions, including the corresponding draft legislation and non-legislative changes that impact trade with other WTO members, will be regularly notified to comply with WTO rules. There’s a need for transparency and timely updates (for example on changes to model export health certificates) to avoid unintended disruptions to trade.
Another area of concern with the Target Operating Model is the UK’s delay in implementing fully digitised health certificates for imports of animals and animal products into Great Britain. Although the UK accepts electronically signed PDF versions of certificates issued in the TRACES system, it doesn’t match the benefits of full electronic transmission. Our EU trading partners will need to be reassured that this interim solution will continue to be accepted until the UK’s electronic systems can directly receive certificates from TRACES.
On the issue of model Export Health Certificates (EHCs), there are a couple of unresolved issues. First, certain animal products require additional information when originating from multiple EU member states, compared to those from a single member state. This disparity increases the costs and administrative burdens for EU exporters. Second, some model EHCs demand guarantees for animal diseases that are no longer listed as important for international trade by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
Then there is the considerable challenge in aligning the versions of numerous model certificates available in the TRACES system by 31 October 2023. Given such a tight deadline, the EU will no doubt need some flexibility from the UK to continue accepting certificates issued in TRACES based on previous versions of the models while a more appropriate solution is discussed.
Additionally, a potential issue is the absence of consolidated versions of UK legislation, particularly in the area of phytosanitary export certification. Multiple amendments since 2021 have complicated the process for EU competent authorities responsible for certifying compliance with UK’s phytosanitary import requirements. This issue is only expected to escalate from 31 October, with the extension of certification requirements to additional plants and plant products.
Lastly, and perhaps most worrying for UK firms that trade with the EU is the lack of clarity around whether the UK government intends to reduce or even eliminate SPS import controls on commodities originating from non-EU countries, as outlined in the UK’s proposal. This could cause real problems as it will affect the UK’s SPS status with the EU and threaten our ability to export to the bloc.
BMPA has been raising all these concerns with Defra and continues to work closely with ministers and civil servants to feed-in industry-specific information to help form practical, workable solutions.