5 things you need to know about new EU import rules

22 January 2024, 12:44 PM
  • Learn what the new border controls for EU imports coming into force from 31st January mean for independent retailers and wholesalers
5 things you need to know about new EU import rules

Border controls for imports of fresh food such as meat and dairy products from the European Union will come into effect in January 2024 after being delayed following the Brexit deal

Why is it happening now?

Despite leaving the EU’s single market in January 2021, the UK has delayed introducing the full border controls several times over worries around cost and disruption. The delay was also made to give businesses more time to prepare for the requirements, which include the requirement of a vet-signed health certificate on meat and dairy products.

Now the government has set out its new Border Target Operating Model in a bid to create a “world-class border system”.

“Protecting UK biosecurity through effective border controls on the goods that we import is so important. These border controls safeguard the food that we eat, and protect animal and plant health across the UK,” said Lord Benyon, minister for biosecurity at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

What changes are coming in January?

From 31st January, European businesses exporting ‘medium risk’ plant and animal products (including milk, dairy products that contain raw milk, meat and meat products) to the UK will have to submit extra paperwork known as health certificates, with the introduction of physical checks, costing up to £43, coming into force from 30th April. 

What will it cost businesses?

The government said the new system will save businesses around £520m per year compared to the original import model that would have been introduced in 2022. However, Sky News reported that the new rules will actually cost businesses £330m a year in extra charges.

What does it mean for independent food and drink businesses?

For wholesalers and retailers who import products like cheeses and meat from the EU, costs are likely to rise, and they may see smaller EU exporters no longer selling their goods to UK retailers or distributors.

Even before the introduction of the latest measures, imports have been less predictable for small businesses. “Since we left the EU under Boris Johnson’s ‘oven ready’ deal, supplies from Europe have not been as consistent or guaranteed as they were before,” says Simon Jones of Forest Deli. “Some of the importers we used to use have stopped exporting to the UK, and some products we can’t source at all now. The increase in paperwork and the constant changes are the cited reasons for this,” he explained.

“Prices have now started to rise as well, so combined with the availability issues we will not be able to guarantee we can fulfil customer requests.”

Many independent fine food retailers are champions of local produce and love to showcase the food and drink delights we have on our doorstep around the UK. But when it comes to introducing British customers to the equally fantastic small producers from around Europe, retailers warn that opportunities could be diminishing.

“Based in the Forest of Dean and specialising in local produce, we don’t sell that much from Europe,” Simon admitted. “But there are some cheeses and meats that there just isn’t an alternative [for in the UK] – Vacherin, Manchego, and Montagnolo are all very popular cheeses, and it would be very sad to lose access to them either through price or paperwork,” he said.

However, others have had a more positive outlook. Nigel Jenney, CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium, welcomed the publication of the Border Target Operating Model in August as a “focussed, risk-based approach”. 

“Let’s be clear, challenges remain,” he said. “However, this is a bold step forward to achieve our ambition to become a world-leading destination of choice promoting imports and exports of fantastic fresh produce, and flowers and plants.”

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has been actively engaging with the Cabinet Office on the upcoming border controls and compliance challenges for business, and William Bain, head of trade policy, told Speciality Food, that the clock is ticking as we approach the introduction of export health certificates for EU products entering Great Britain. He warned small businesses not to delay in getting their house in order when it comes to EU imports. “Now is the time for businesses to confirm incoterms with EU suppliers, to ensure supply chains can adapt to the new trading terms being rolled out in 2024,” he said.

What’s next?

While 2024 will see export friction with the EU, Mark Lynch, partner at Oghma Partners, believes a change in political leadership in the UK could alter this outlook. “Ultimately, we think a new Labour government will seek to resolve the issue by rejoining the EU Phytosanitary regime, which would be a relief to the UK and EU food industry and highly unlikely to affect any pro-Brexit voters,” he said.

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