UK Implements Physical Checks on EU Fresh Food Imports

Written by Camilla Jessen

May.01 - 2024 8:55 AM CET

Britain has begun physical inspections of fresh food imports from the European Union as of Tuesday, 30th April.

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Britain has initiated physical checks on fresh food imports from the European Union, starting Tuesday, April 30, as reported by Euractive. This initiative comes three years after Britain's departure from the EU single market and eight years after the Brexit vote.

The implementation of these checks could significantly impact small retailers and wholesalers in the UK, who have expressed concerns about potential delays and disruptions. Such issues may lead to a reduced variety of goods, less fresh produce, and higher prices for British consumers.

Major supermarkets and large EU exporters, with more resources to manage the new requirements, might face fewer difficulties.

The UK's new Border Target Operating Model was first introduced on January 31, requiring additional certification for imports.

The latest phase, starting this Tuesday, involves physical inspections at ports for "medium risk" items like meat, fish, cheese, eggs, dairy products, and certain flowers. New fees have also been implemented.

Government’s Rationale and Industry Reactions

The UK government asserts that these checks are important for preventing diseases and pests from entering the country and ensuring fair competition for UK exporters.

"It is essential that we introduce these global, risk-based checks to improve the UK’s biosecurity," stated Cabinet Office minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe.

“We cannot continue with temporary measures which leave the UK open to threats from diseases and could do considerable damage to our livelihoods, our economy and our farming industry.”

Despite these intentions, the introduction of checks has been met with criticism from industry leaders.

Nigel Jenney, CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium, labeled the UK border as "the world’s most inefficient and expensive."

He also highlighted a significant oversight: inspection staff availability at border control points does not extend beyond 7 p.m., despite most goods in the sector arriving outside these hours.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson clarified that operating hours at each border control post would vary based on trade levels and demand, and many sites may operate beyond typical business hours.

Future Plans

The government faces calls for clarity on the frequency and specifics of these checks.

"Firms face mounting confusion and uncertainty about exactly how and when the borders checks and costs will be fully implemented," noted William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce.

Despite the challenges, the government plans to take a "pragmatic approach" to the implementation of checks, prioritizing goods that pose the highest biosecurity risks and aiming to maintain smooth import flows.

The anticipated additional annual cost to importers is estimated at 330 million pounds (€386 million), with a projected minimal impact on food inflation, increasing it by only 0.2% over three years.

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