Is the UK Brexit ready?
The mood music from Brussels is not encouraging and it does feel as though the path to an ‘ambitious and wide ranging free trade agreement’ is not going to be straightforward.
Increasingly tetchy exchanges had culminated in the EU restating in a letter that ‘the UK cannot expect high-quality access to the EU Single Market if it is not prepared to accept guarantees to ensure that competition remains open and fair.’
In its defence it points to the commitments made by the UK in the Political Declaration attached to the Withdrawal Agreement and it does seem a little dubious that the UK’s response on this was that that aspect of the agreement wasn’t binding. That looks a bit like making a promise with your fingers crossed.
With the diminishing likelihood of there being a comprehensive deal the UK has suggested reducing the ambition of the deal by letting go of the shared commitment for a “zero tariff, zero quota agreement” and replacing it with a “low-quality trade agreement” and this points to a significant dilemma which the EU has been quick to point out.
The question for our meat businesses is somewhat different given that they are unlikely to be able to have much influence over what sort of Brexit we end up with at this stage.
There is time for a comprehensive zero for zero deal underpinned by the commitments the EU is demanding, and there is time for no-deal. What there is not time for is a tariff line by tariff line negotiation if the UK remains committed to not extending the transition period beyond the end of December. This is further limited by the UK stating that it might refocus towards a no-deal outcome if significant progress has not been made by 1 July 2020.
The question for our meat businesses is somewhat different given that they are unlikely to be able to have much influence over what sort of Brexit we end up with at this stage. The reality is that, for the most part, and I include myself in this, business has accepted the reality of Brexit and the focus now must be to ensure, whatever the outcome, our industry can continue to do business and thrive.
During the last 12 months a range of specific practical issues have emerged which remain unresolved and we need urgently to re-engage with Government to resolve these. Understandably, Government has been deeply preoccupied with managing the Covid-19 pandemic and this remains the case but the end of Transition deadline remains fixed so we must now press on and ensure that everything is done to allow trade to function smoothly from 1 January 2021. While some things will depend on the deal or absence thereof, there are some things we know now and can act on.
The UK will be a full 3rd country from an EU perspective from 11pm on 31 December 2020. This means that, regardless of the future deal, there will be a requirement of Export Health Certificates, SPS checks at border inspection posts and some customs procedures. The latter are an inevitable consequence of having an independent trade policy and rules of origin.
Some of the key areas raised by BMPA members in a recent survey include:
– Groupage: As things stand there is no working protocol or procedure in place for grouped or mixed loads containing fresh or frozen meat or meat products.
– 3rd country status for exports to the EU. This needs to be reconfirmed because, without it, the UK will not be able to export meat to the EU.
– Export Health Certificates – Some key products such as fresh meat preparations or mince are not covered so could not be traded.
– Health marks and managing the transition from the UK to the GB mark.
– Access to labour.
– Minimising friction and delay at borders due to checks.
In my next article I will look at some of these in detail but in the meantime the industry is actively re-engaging with Government to address these issues.