6 things the food sector needs to know about Brexit

03 February 2021, 08:23 AM
  • Brexit is done and dusted, but for many businesses in the food sector, the implications of Britain’s exit from the EU are only just beginning to be felt
6 things the food sector needs to know about Brexit

Food and drink businesses may have been hoping they had heard the last of Brexit when the 31st December brought the long and tumultuous negotiations with the EU to an end. But it should hardly come as a surprise that the rippling effects of Brexit are making themselves known more than a month after the UK officially left the bloc.

And while the fine food sector tends to keep shorter supply chains than the rest of the food industry, there is still a fair amount of involvement with the continent, especially when it comes to specialities such as regional cheeses or protected products. We’ve rounded up the top six things that the food and drink sector needs to know about Brexit.

1. Importing goods from the EU
The rules for importing products from the EU changed after Brexit took effect. Now, to import goods into England, Wales or Scotland, businesses must have an EORI number that starts with GB. If you move goods to or from Northern Ireland you may need one that starts with XI.

You’ll need to make customs declarations on the imported goods, and you can determine the rate of duty you’ll need to pay and whether you need an import licence by checking the commodity code. In order to import food, you’ll also have to check the marking, labelling and marketing standards. You can find a step-by-step guide to importing goods into the UK from Europe here.

2. Exporting goods to the EU
The new trade agreement establishes zero tariffs or quotas on trade between the UK and the EU, where goods meet the relevant rules of origin (see number 3). Once you have checked this, you’ll once again need an EORI number starting with GB/XI as well as a commodity code.

Some sectors have experienced delays in exports due to the increased admin, including the requirement that animal products like meat, fish and dairy receive vet-approved export health certificates. Currently, manufactured foods that contain these products are exempt, but that is set to end in April, and there is still uncertainty around what this will mean for food businesses. Here is a full guide to exporting from the UK.

3. New rules of origin
When exporting or importing food or drink to the EU, you’ll need to prove to HMRC that you can claim preference for goods you are importing or give the person receiving the goods evidence of the origin so they can claim preference.

Getting to grips with these new rules is “one of the main issues businesses are facing,” says Catherine Stephens, head of international trade services at Business West.

Catherine continues: “These are problematic for the following reasons:
• “Exporters were used to the old Customs Notices; these have mostly been deleted and replaced by other guidance on the gov.uk website – a lot of which is not complete or up to date.
• “Exporters and importers must get their heads around completely new rules – the new Trade & Co-Operation agreement (TCA), which is 37 pages long (the full trade agreement is over 1000 pages long) as well as using different declarations, and ensuring they have the correct proofs of origin in place to be able to claim preference. NB – there are easements where supplier declarations can be obtained up to 12 months later until 31st Dec 2021.”

“One of the main issues is having the time to go through and make sure they are following the rules correctly and have the correct proofs in place,” Catherine explains. “Because we now have a free trade agreement with the EU, many exporters/importers assume that all goods coming into the UK will now have zero import duties/tariffs – this is not the case, and if preference cannot be claimed potentially duties may be applicable.”

4. Moving goods into Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Protocol was introduced to ensure there was no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit. Under the deal, there is now a ‘regulatory’ border between Britain and Northern Ireland, as Northern Ireland will continue to follow some EU rules.

This means food products are being checked when moving from the mainland UK to Northern Ireland – however, these were suspended on 2nd February over concerns for staff safety and growing tensions around the protocol. Although supermarkets were given a three-month grace period, questions remain over the future of the protocol. “The situation with Northern Ireland in particular looks untenable and Michael Gove seems now to have admitted that the issues are a lot more than mere teething troubles and a significant extension to grace periods is necessary, if not a renegotiation of the Northern Ireland protocol,” says Simon Waring, managing director of Green Seed UK, an international sales and marketing consultancy.

Find more about moving goods into Northern Ireland here.

5. Employing EU citizens
As well as giving extra consideration to your imports or exports, you will also have to think about your employees. There is also a new immigration system for people arriving to the UK from 2021, and EU citizens moving to the UK for work will need a visa. You can check a job applicant’s right to work here until 30th June.

However, some jobs remain vital in the food and drink sector. For instance, the government is allowing farmers to bring in 30,000 seasonal workers from EU and non-EU countries this year to help pick and pack fruit and vegetables via the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme. Research by the Association of Labour Providers found that 70% of food growers and manufacturers expected to struggle to recruit lower skilled workers in 2021.

6. Travelling to the EU
While travel to the EU is currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, travelling for business can still continue after Covid-19 rules are relaxed – although there will be more requirements in place due to Brexit. Now, British citizens must ensure their passport is valid for at least six months. A new Global Health Insurance Card has also been developed to replace the European Health Insurance Cards, which are valid until their expiry date. In some cases, you may need a visa or work permit – you can check the requirements here.

There are many new rules for British food shops and brands to contend with if they wish to continue working with EU-based businesses. For independents, whose strengths often lie in their adaptability, this will likely prove useful as they get to grips with new Brexit requirements.

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