The government’s decision to today (14 September) further delay some of its post-Brexit import controls for goods entering Great Britain from the EU has been met with a mixture of relief and incredulity by the UK’s international traders.
While the EU introduced new customs rules for all British exports into the bloc from the start of the year, the UK has decided to introduce its own checks in phases.
Sanitary checks for agri-foods and the requirement for export health certificates are among the controls which the government has today postponed until July 2022.
You can read more about the new timeline EU-to-GB import controls here.
Why the delay?
Announcing the delays, the government’s paymaster general, Penny Morduant, explained that the long-lasting impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic were behind the decision.
“There are also pressures on global supply chains, caused by a wide range of factors including the pandemic and the increased costs of global freight transport,” she said.
“These pressures are being especially felt in the agri-food sector,” she added.
The announcement comes amid fears of empty supermarket shelves at Christmas, with the UK reportedly faced with a shortage of up to 100,000 HGV drivers.
Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, said the news was “not a surprising development” and that it would be “welcomed by many in the logistics industry”.
“Additional time and costs on goods arriving from Europe next year will definitely have an economic impact,” he said. “But both industry and government are working hard to mitigate any major effects and to continue to keep the country supplied.”
Marco Forgione, director general at the Institute of Export & International Trade, was among those welcoming the news, saying it would give businesses extra time to prepare for new rules after a difficult year dealing with the impacts of the pandemic.
“We welcome this delay to controls for EU-GB imports, acknowledging the supply chain challenges faced by businesses arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, rising shipping costs and driver shortages,” he said.
However, he warned that companies still need to prepare to complete customs declarations for imports from 1 January 2022 – a date in the UK’s calendar for import rules that did not change today.
You can read the full response from Forgione and the IOE&IT here.
Others in the industry have proved more sceptical about the possible impact of today’s announcement, with the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) chief executive Ian Wright warning it will not help to alleviate the pressure supermarkets are currently facing.
He told the Guardian that most FDF members had already prepared for the rule changes that were due to come in from October and claimed that the decision puts the country’s exporters at a disadvantage compared to their EU competitors.
“It means there will be an asymmetric relationship for British business where we are doing all the work on exports and paying the costs while EU business don’t have any of these checks or costs,” he said.
Complexity of trading
British businesses faced post-Brexit rules for sending goods into the EU from 1 January, while EU businesses exporting to Britain have benefitted from the government’s phased approach.
UK food and drink exports have declined sharply since Brexit, however, with sales to the EU down more than a quarter (27.4%) in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019 – though the Covid-19 pandemic also contributed to this decline.
John Whitehead, director of the Food & Drink Exporters Association (FDEA), said the drop in exports to the EU was partly a result of “the complexity of trading with the EU” which had led to businesses moving operations into Europe and importers looking for alternatives to UK suppliers.