Warning of border disruptions as UK and EU seal trade deal

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The United Kingdom and European Union have agreed on a trade deal just days before the end of the transition period; countries in UK will be on their own.

People in the UK voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum – a process known as Brexit. Beginning in January 2021, the UK will leave the single market and customs union.

From this date, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) will be responsible for many functions previously held by the European Commission and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The UK’s agri-food consignments will need health certificates and be subject to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls at member states’ border inspection posts. Chapter 3 of the agreement covers SPS measures. There is no mention of the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) but there are plans for information to be shared between the EU and UK from the Rapid Alert System for non-food products (RAPEX) and its UK equivalent.

Added cost and complexity
Reaction has welcomed the confirmation of no tariffs but warned trade between the two parties will not be the same.

Minette Batters, National Farmers Union president, said the EU is the UK’s largest trading partner.

“The tariff-free element will be a particular relief for farmers that rely heavily on the EU export market, such as our sheep farmers, as well as farmers across British agriculture that produce the safe, traceable and affordable food that underpins more than £14 billion ($18.9 billion) worth of export sales each year to the EU,” she said.

Batters said the UK’s relationship with the EU will experience a “fundamental change” from January 2021 and the NFU anticipates there will be disruption to trade at the border.

“New checks, paperwork and requirements on traders will add costs and complexity. It is vital government does all it can now to prioritize exports of our high quality, perishable agricultural products to make sure that these products are not left languishing in queues at the border when the changes take effect,” she said.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, welcomed the free trade agreement.

“Given that four-fifths of UK food imports come from the EU, (the) announcement should afford households around the UK a collective sigh of relief,” she said.

Dickinson said the zero-tariff agreement benefits customers all over Europe.

“They must now work to implement this new arrangement as soon as possible, ensuring there are no tariffs from day one, and finding new ways to reduce the checks and red tape that we’ll see from Jan. 1.” Dickinson said.

Supply disruption and price rises
Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at consumer group Which?, said even with a deal, people may still see changes from what they have been used to.

“Crucially, the announcement that people will continue to benefit from zero tariffs on goods from the EU is positive for consumers, as many will be keeping a close eye on their finances heading into the new year,” Concha said.

Ian Wright, Food and Drink Federation chief executive, said manufacturers will try to keep food flowing. However, the last gasp nature of the deal means there will be significant disruption to supply and some prices will rise.

“The Prime Minister promised UK businesses over a year of transition in which to adapt to a new set of rules. He has delivered us four working days. We hope for a much more collaborative relationship between London and member states with the minimization of disruption at the border due to new trade frictions introduced as a priority,” he said.

In a joint statement from the EU side, Copa-Cogeca, CELCAA and FoodDrinkEurope said “stormy waters” could lie ahead for the agri-food sector.

“We all need to look at the detail of the agreement to understand the full implications, but it is essential for EU and UK authorities to move at lightning speed to ensure businesses understand the new trade requirements, that border controls can operate efficiently from Jan. 1 and that the Commission has a crisis management protocol, including direct communications with agri-food chain operators, to identify and solve border issues as they arise over the coming weeks and months,” it said.

“Failure to move quickly will lead to more border chaos and supply chain disruption that will not only put thousands of jobs at risk, but also impact the safe supply of affordable agri-food products to consumers.”

Need for Export Health Certificate
Andrew Gray, the head of Brexit at PricewaterhouseCoopers UK, said confirmation tariffs and quotas won’t apply for movement of goods between the UK and EU will be a relief but firms still need to navigate customs declarations, requirements on products’ origins, and changes to VAT from January.

“There may also be changes to tariffs for business between the UK and other non-EU countries depending on other trade agreements, and the implications of WTO rules and the UK global tariff.  From Jan. 1, this will all impact supply chains and buyer behaviors. And remember that for goods passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland different rules will apply.” Gray said.

Earlier in December, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reported the UK had been granted national listed status, meaning exports to the EU of live animals and products of animal origin such as meat, fish and dairy can continue.

This was confirmed by the EU after the UK met the health and biosecurity assurances required for a third country. Such a listing is a requirement for imports of sanitary and phytosanitary products into the EU.

Businesses will require an Export Health Certificate for all different product types within a consignment, which will need to be signed by a certifier such as an official veterinarian.

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