New import controls still need ironing-out before April
The 30 April deadline for the introduction of new red tape and checks on imported meat is fast approaching, but it’s far from certain it won’t cause disruption in the supply and a hike in the cost of some of our meat staples.
There have been reports in the media warning of UK Border Control Post (BCP) not being sufficiently prepared for these new checks, but it’s what we’re hearing from our European association counterparts in their note to the EU Commission and UK Government (PDF) that’s more worrying.
Every indication we have is that there is a lack of veterinary capacity amongst EU exporting countries, particularly at the end of the week and on weekends. We’re also hearing that EU vets, who have to sign the Export Health Certificates (EHCs) needed to be able to export meat, may not be prepared to sign those EHC at all. This is because there are discrepancies between what’s on our UK EHCs and the EU vets’ ability to match it up with current EU legislation, which has begun to diverge from the pre-Brexit legislation that was copied and pasted back in 2021.
Put bluntly, if the vets aren’t able to sign off the documentation, consignments of meat may not even leave the factory, let alone get to a UK Border Control Post. Even if vets can sign off, many smaller EU suppliers will simply stop exporting to the UK due to the extra bureaucracy and the loss of the ability to send small consignments in grouped loads, just as small UK exporters did in 2021.
There’s another issue our EU contacts have flagged. Along with EHCs and physical checks, consignments of meat will also need to be pre-notified at least 24 hours in advance. This is simply not practical for a fast moving, short shelf-life supply chain. It also adds extra cost from the hauliers for additional waiting time on lorries.
To put this into context, Britain relies on imports for 22% of its beef, 21% of its sheep meat and 49% of its pork, with the EU supplying the bulk of those needs. Until now, and prior to the 30 April, the Government have said that full checks on paperwork and consignments won’t be implemented. Instead, this period will be regarded as an educational phase during which consignments won’t be rejected or turned back. In fact, they’re not even required to pass through a designated UK Border Control Post.
After 30 April this new system has to work properly, from the vet in a French meat plant, right through to a border official at Dover.
We’re highlighting to Government that there’s still time to iron out these issues well before the new rules come into force to avoid a sudden shock to the food supply chain.