Windsor Framework far from being a fix for trade with Northern Ireland
In a recent House of Lords sub-committee meeting to hear evidence on the Windsor Framework implementation, Peter Hardwick BMPA’s Trade Policy Advisor gave evidence on behalf of the meat industry. His responses underscored the challenges and concerns faced by British businesses and the need for greater clarity, consultation, and potentially an extension of compliance deadlines.
It’s worth first pointing out that the Windsor Framework does not benefit businesses in Great Britain (GB) that are moving goods into Northern Ireland for processing. In general, the proposed easements mainly favour retailers, not BMPA processor members.
We’ve summarised the main points discussed by Peter at the hearing.
EU and Other Exporters vs. GB Operators
The introduction of the new Windsor Framework alongside the upcoming Border Target Operating Model will open up disparities in requirements between EU exporters sending goods to Great Britain and GB operators sending goods to Northern Ireland.
Remarkably EU exporters will have less stringent requirements. Peter explains: “We are in a situation where for [Great Britain] to send goods to another part of the internal market, we will continue to have to meet full certification requirements, whereas businesses in the EU and other countries outside the EU will have to do less to send goods to GB. That is very concerning.
“To highlight this and to give you a sense of how ridiculous this is, not only will that apply to EU countries but, from next year, countries outside the EU, such as Brazil or even Botswana…will be able to use a streamlined export health certificate to send beef to the United Kingdom, and we will not. That document that we will have to complete is a third longer than the document they will have to complete to send goods to the UK. All of that equates to time and cost. In fact, beef from New Zealand will not have to provide an export health certificate at all.”
Concerns about Extra Costs
Peter also expressed concerns to the Committee about the additional costs that GB businesses will face due to the end of the Movement Assistance Scheme, which currently covers certification costs. According to the official government website, that scheme is due to finish at the end of December 2023 which will instantly start costing our members a huge amount in extra costs for Export Health Certificates. As Peter explained: “For each of our businesses, it amounts to hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. Across our membership, it may well be several million pounds.”
The question is, who will ultimately bear that extra cost? Most likely some will have to be absorbed by processors and producers and some will be passed on to consumers, stoking food price inflation. [UPDATE: It was announced on 29 September that the Movement Assistance Scheme has been extended until 30 June 2025]
Impact on Jobs
This is not just a trade or political issue. It also affects jobs. Some of our members have meat processing plants in both Northern Ireland and GB, which means they will have to decide where to do their processing, considering the extra costs and complexity of moving material between the two regions. It could force some UK companies to pull some of their production sites out of Northern Ireland and re-locate to the mainland because the new rules will restrict how they’re able to move goods between the two.
Lack of Understanding of the Practical Implications
Peter highlighted instances where the framework and details were agreed upon without a full understanding of the practical implications for supply chains. He cited this as an example: “We still do not have a definitive list of which products we can sell and send to Northern Ireland. I can give you one example: Thai cooked chicken. That is regularly used in ready meals and other products. That comes straight into Great Britain. It is used in ready meals and then sent to Northern Ireland, but it is not processed, so it does not meet the requirements of the green lane in the Windsor Framework.
“As it stands, we could have a lorry with multiple products, one of which is in the red lane and the rest of which is in the green lane. That is just unfeasible, so retailers have to think about which products they sell. Do they need to change their supply chains?
I know Defra is working at pace, as I said earlier, to try to give us some last-minute easements on lots of these issues, to get us through October and into the new year, but we were clear at the time that we thought the timescales we were presented with were completely unfeasible. If you remember, I said that to the committee last time I saw you. It showed a lack of understanding of the detail behind the Windsor Framework.
Need for Consultation Before Implementation
Peter emphasised the importance of consulting with the industry before implementing solutions rather than announcing them first and then organizing meetings with industry stakeholders.
Echoing the frustration being felt around the industry he remarked: “We feel that one of the problems at the moment is that things are announced apparently as solutions and only then are meetings organised with industry to work out how they will actually work. That is the wrong way round. There needs to be a lot more consultation first, and then we can come out with a worked-out solution, rather than lots of webinars and seminars where we are told what will happen and there are lots of questions that remain unanswered. From that point of view, it is not going very well.”
Concerns About Rushed Implementation
He also expressed concerns about the unrealistic timetable for implementing the new system, saying: “All in all, we still feel that everything is very rushed. We do not get a sense of calm and control from the people tasked with implementing this. We are also not convinced that the infrastructure in Northern Ireland will be in place in time to carry out the checks and implementation. We suspect—we will perhaps come to this in the next question—that we will be pushed to meet the deadlines that have been set.”
Lack of Detail and Information
Peter and the others giving evidence pointed out that there is still a lack of detailed information regarding the new frameworks, making it challenging for businesses to prepare adequately. No one is sure whether or not they will be getting further guidance before 1 October. He identified key areas where businesses urgently require more information, including groupage and the import of non-UK products into Northern Ireland.
On the groupage issue Peter highlighted the problems being faced: “The Northern Ireland retail movement scheme is being pitched as a solution for groupage, but we have yet to encounter any haulier who thinks it will work or is willing to take on groupage.”
He explained further that: “It is not clear when doing groupage who applies seals and where. We have been told that one way this will be done is for each pallet to be sealed. Then the driver is given a second seal and applies all those seals to the vehicle, so 20 seals on the back of a vehicle. Clearly, that is not workable. There are real concerns here. There is a danger that customers and suppliers have expectations that they will be able to make this work. At the moment, we have no indication that it will work.”
What Can be Done?
Peter suggested that, given the lack of information and the time constraints, a re-evaluation of the 1 October deadline might be necessary. He concluded that: “It is probably not realistic to do this on 1 October… because we still lack detail. Our members have been working hard to meet this deadline, but there remain doubts about the guidelines and so on.
“If we had the information, we could probably move quite quickly, but we do not. We are talking about 17 days [from 13 September ’23]. That is a very short period of time. I suggest that we probably need to think about that, because there is information that we are lacking.”
He pointed out finally that engagement with industry “has probably been suboptimal. When questions have come out, it has taken a long time for them to be answered. In many cases, we have not had an answer. We are still some way from being ready as an industry.” BMPA continues to engage with all parties concerned and push for a more pragmatic approach to implementing the new regime. We will keep members updated of all developments.
You can listen to the full committee hearing here.