Most food and drink businesses are 'apprehensive' about new trade rules, webinar poll finds

Wed 17 Jan 2024
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Lorries at EU border

Most food and drink businesses are apprehensive about upcoming cross-border trade rules, a new poll has found.

At a webinar hosted by the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) yesterday (16 January), 54% agreed with the statement “I feel apprehensive about the new EU-UK rules coming into force this year”, with a further 21% strongly agreeing.

These rules include new sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls that are being introduced for goods entering Britain under the government’s Border Target Operating Model (BTOM). The first batch of new rules are due to come in on 31 January, including the requirement for export health and phytosanitary certificates to be provided for animal-origin and plant-based products.

While most on the call said they were familiar with upcoming BTOM deadlines, over a third said they were not.

Ensuring EU suppliers obtain necessary certification for goods to be exported to the UK was the most challenging aspect of BTOM among delegates (39%), followed by changes to declaration processes (30%).

BTOM and Beyond

The webinar followed the IOE&IT’s whitepaper, ‘BTOM and Beyond’, published in September 2023. This report outlined over 20 changes that are due this year for cross-border trade into and out of the UK.

“The lack of awareness of the upcoming deadline is a cause for concern and reflects what we’re hearing more widely from our members and the industry in general,” said Laura Williams, an IOE&IT trade and customs consultant, at yesterday’s event.

She noted that IOE&IT members looking for more practical details about the new SPS rules, due 31 January, should attend the Lunchtime Learning webinar being hosted on this tomorrow.

Cost impact

James Beringer, corporate affairs and trade policy executive at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said that businesses are broadly supportive of BTOM at a policy level, but there is concern about its “pragmatic implementation”.

This includes the requirement for European suppliers to begin obtaining export health certificates, which he said was expensive and could bring into question whether some EU suppliers will continue sending certain goods to the UK.

Katrina Walsh, strategy director at the International Meat Trade Association, noted that EU exports of chilled meats into Britain, which rely on ‘just-in-time’ supply chains, could be impacted by any delays to transport times and new checks.

Walsh also raised concerns about groupage shipments, particularly for smaller companies who will be less able to ship large trucks of specific commodities. Beringer and Williams agreed that BTOM could “disproportionately affect SMEs”.

Ian Mace, head of government affairs and policy at Associated British Foods, said it was imperative that UK importers “ask details” of how their EU suppliers are going to comply with the new rules.

Export opportunities

On a more positive note, Walsh and Williams noted that BTOM will create a “level playing field” for UK exporters to Europe, noting that the EU introduced its own post-Brexit SPS controls in January 2021 following the end of the post-Brexit transition.

Williams said the UK has some of the “best available products on the market”, meaning 2024 could be a more positive year for the country’s exporters.

Tee Sandhu, cofounder of SamosaCo and a member of the Food and Drink Export Council (FDEC), agreed that there are “amazing producers in the UK” including smaller businesses “who should really be exporting”.

The FDEC is a collaborative venture between government and industry to boost UK food and drink exports.

“It’s an exciting time for UK exporters,” he said. “Businesses selling high quality products, with significant export potential, are now gaining access to new markets as a result of the UK’s new trade agreements, such as Australia and CPTPP,” he said, though he added that the EU remains a significant market for UK exporters.

“European buyers, distributors and agents are still keen to do business with UK producers because they know the demand for our products are there,” he said.