'Growing anxiety' over readiness for Border Target Operating Model, say trade chiefs

Thu 4 Jan 2024
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

The UK’s leading business groups have warned that there is a “growing anxiety” about whether businesses in the UK and EU will be ready for new border controls on goods entering Britain.

Under the UK’s new Border Target Operating Model (BTOM), new documentary requirements will be introduced for EU businesses sending animal and plant products into the UK from 31 January, with border checks beginning in April.

Not ready

The Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) is among the industry bodies that have been warning businesses about the potential impact of BTOM for British and European businesses, as well as a range of other new rules and IT systems that are being introduced for trade.

In September 2023, it published a white paper, ‘BTOM and Beyond’, outlining changes that are due to come in over the next 18 months.

IOE&IT director general Marco Forgione told today’s FT that readiness for the new rules is “low”.

“We have a growing anxiety that the state of preparedness in the EU is very low.

“Even recognition that things are going to change is very low, and it decreases as you go down the size of business.”

Representatives from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and British Retail Consortium (BRC) also told the FT that readiness among EU supplies was a “significant unknown”.

“You would expect big players to be ready, but for a smaller player — an Italian specialist in cured meats, say — it may be harder,” said BRC’s director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie. “Even in the UK government there is concern over whether all EU regional governments are up to speed. It’s a bit of an unknown”.

Difficult time for food and drink

The Times reports that the BTOM changes come at a particularly difficult time for the food and drink sector, which is also grappling with the impacts of climate change, international conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, and transportation crises in the Suez and Panama canals.

Professor Chris Elliott from Queen’s University Belfast said this could lead to food shortages in 2024.

“My expectation is, as we’ve already seen in 2023 with some empty supermarket shelves for months, this will become more persistent as we go forward.

“It’ll be about affordability but also availability, and the likelihood of empty shelves, particularly fresh produce shelves, in 2024 is alarmingly high.”

The IOE&IT is running a free webinar on the challenges faced by food and drink businesses – including BTOM and supply chain disruptions – on Tuesday 16 January as part of its efforts to support businesses in the sector.

The event, which will also include representatives from the Food and Drink Federation and International Meat Trade Association, will also give an overview of the opportunities ahead for UK exporters in 2024, particularly under the country’s new free trade agreements.

Digital approach

With the BTOM, the government says that the UK’s border controls are being “simplified and digitised", reducing administrative burden for businesses.

Speaking at IOE&IT’s Import Export Show in November, cabinet office minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG said BTOM could save an estimated £500m per year for businesses by eradicating additional paperwork for importers and introducing a risk-based model for border checks.

Writing on PublicTechnology.net, Angela MacDonald, deputy chief executive at HMRC, said BTOM had a key role to play in helping the government build a “world-class customs capability”. She said:

“The publication of the BTOM was a really significant piece of cross-government working, setting out how we’ll simplify and digitise the way goods from across the world are imported more safely and securely into the UK.”