New post-Brexit food checks could be on the way

19 May 2021, 08:14 AM
  • The UK has proposed a four-step roadmap for phasing in new Irish Sea border checks on food products as part of the Northern Ireland Protocol
New post-Brexit food checks could be on the way

New checks for food imports to Northern Ireland from Great Britain have been proposed by the UK, according to reports. The details of the four-step roadmap, which were seen by the BBC, say the rules will be phased in from October if approved.

According to the roadmap, phase one would begin in October, when the current grace period for supermarkets ends, and would cover fresh meat products. Phase two would begin at the end of January 2022 for dairy products, plants and wine. The third and fourth phases would cover fruit and vegetables, pet food, organics and composite products, but had no date given.

“The consequences of the EU/UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol have resulted in an inevitable increase in trade friction even to trade within the UK,” Peter Hardwick, trade policy advisor at the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), told Speciality Food. “Anything to reduce this friction must be welcomed and, while this proposal does not necessarily remove that friction in the long run, it does provide a sensible timetable for businesses to prepare and adapt.”

Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), told Speciality Food that while Northern Ireland is a “huge exporter of food”, producing enough to feed 10 million people per year, “many of the raw ingredients included in our recipes come from GB, so it is vital that trade across the Irish Sea is as frictionless as possible”.

He continued: “Since the end of the Brexit transition period, business has been doing everything it can to make the new arrangements work, but it is clear that if the Northern Ireland Protocol is to be durable and sustainable in the long term, we need to see a joined-up, collaborative approach between the government and the European Union.”

However, Peter said the only long-term solution for these trade issues will be to reach a veterinary agreement in which the UK and the EU are in a Common Veterinary Area. “This could be achieved in a way that would not compromise our negotiating position on trade deals with other countries as it would focus on plant and animal health rules rather than food standards,” he said.

Solutions for the whole supply chain

Despite the proposed plans, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator told the MPs on the European Scrutiny Committee on 17th May that talks with the EU about the Northern Ireland Protocol have not been “hugely productive”. Lord Frost added that the UK would not align with EU food standards to reduce the checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

“From the EU point of view the easiest solution to any border problem is we should just operate the same rules as they do. That doesn’t work for us and isn’t going to be the solution,” he said.

Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at the FDF, said the group continues to work to find practical solutions that work for the whole of the food and drink supply chain. “Our priority is to ensure that the full range of food and drink is available in Northern Ireland without price inflation,” Dominic said.

“Solutions must work for suppliers in GB and all customers in Northern Ireland, including manufacturers that depend on competitive access to GB ingredients and the Northern Irish hospitality sector as it reopens,” he said.

Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium’s director of food and sustainability, Andrew Opie, said that EU and UK officials “should urgently sit down with the major supermarkets to understand the issues and agree robust and practical controls which work for households across NI”. Northern Ireland has faced food shortages and political tensions since Brexit was implemented, and some small retailers have missed out on orders from businesses based in Great Britain due to increased costs.

Small exporters and importers have faced particularly challenging situations due to the small size of their orders. However, it is hoped that solutions to these trade frictions will be found in the coming months. This week an EU spokesperson told the BBC talks have been “constructive” adding, “We are making progress.”

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