Mixed reaction from importers and exporters as UK delays controls on goods coming from EU

Fri 12 Mar 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

brexit customs

Industry has reacted with a mixture of relief and exasperation at yesterday’s (11 March) announcement that the UK government is delaying new controls for goods entering Great Britain from the European Union.

The government said the measures, due to commence at the start of April and July, would now come in later in the year, allowing businesses time to prepare and to recover from the effects of COVID-19.

UK retailers importing from the EU welcomed the decision to delay but exporters have expressed anger that they continue to face the full range of EU customs controls, which began on 1 January.

'Listening to business'

“The government has listened to businesses who have faced an unprecedented challenge during the pandemic and will now introduce full border control processes on 1 January 2022, six months later than originally planned,” Cabinet minister Michael Gove said.

Export.org has laid out the new timetable for the introduction of controls, the first of which will come in on 1 October, when checks on agri-food and the requirement for export health certificates (EHCs) kick in.

Speaking in parliament yesterday, Gove said businesses had presented “a strong case that they need more time to prepare”.

‘Nick of time’

Andrew Opie, policy director at the British Retail Consortium, told the Guardian the move came “in the nick of time”. 

He said: “Until the infrastructure is in place, with IT systems ready and established processes for checks and paperwork, it would be foolhardy to introduce full requirements for export health certificate documentation, pre-notification of imports, physical checks and more.”

The Guardian reported that British ports had warned that border control posts required for new checks from 1 April were not ready. EU relations minister Lord Frost is reviewing the construction timetable.

Richard Walker, the MD at Iceland Foods, told the FT the delay is “good if it helps ease the flow of goods”. 

'One-sided Brexit border'

Exporters meanwhile are critical at what they see as a “one-sided Brexit border,” Bloomberg reports.

The news site quotes the Cold Chain Federation, representing hauliers of chilled and frozen food, deeming the situation one of “ongoing unfairness” between UK and EU firms.

The postponement of controls on imports came on the day before the Office for National Statistics reported a 41% drop in exports to the EU in January.

Lost opportunity

Many agricultural firms will be less than pleased, with National Pig Association (NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies telling Farmers’ Weekly that the delay represents a lost opportunity to level up trade between the UK and EU. 

“We had hoped that by July, Britain would be in a stronger position and able to control imports better,” Dr Davies said.  

While the EU imposed stringent checks on British exports from 1 January, the UK government has taken a softer approach after transition from the EU ended on 31 December. 

It waived customs restrictions and fast-tracked food imports because it feared empty supermarket shelves at the start of the post-transition era, the paper reports.

The NPA’s Davies said that the UK would continue to be exposed to cheap food imports for far longer and until a firmer approach was implemented.