Warning post-Brexit border checks could deter EU imports

New plans for post-Brexit border checks on goods coming into the UK will deter many EU suppliers and push up food prices, a trade body has said.

The government says its proposals will prevent delays by reducing the need for physical checks for many goods.

But the Cold Chain Federation said it was “deeply concerned” by the complex forms and costs involved to exporters.

The Cabinet Office said it was a “huge step forward for the safety, security and efficiency of our borders”.

The plans – which have been delayed several times – are designed to introduce checks the UK is required to make under its Brexit trade agreement with the EU.

Under the draft proposals published by the government there would be:

  • Testing of animal and plant products to protect against diseases such as African swine fever and Xylella
  • Checks carried out away from ports to avoid scenes witnessed at Dover last weekend
  • One digital system allowing the customs and regulatory process to be streamlined via a “single trade window” allowing traders to submit information about goods
  • A pilot trusted-trader scheme for frequent importers
  • Health certificates for animal and plant products from the EU by 31 October.

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But Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, which represents chilled food traders, told the BBC’s Today programme that the government had not followed through on promises of a regime to be “radically redesigned and rethought”.

“Imagine you’re a UK and EU food exporter of Parma ham or buffalo mozzarella. As of October you need to know more complex rules, find a local vet, pay them between €200-700 to fill in complex forms, find a specialist haulier, pay a customs agent and pay UK inspection charges of up to £42.

“A significant number of those types of exporters will choose not to do it,” he said.

Mr Brennan said if the draft proposals went through as planned there would be a “painful realignment with significant short-term disruption” for the UK.

“Nothing in these plans is going to stop that from happening. We will get food from around the world but it will be more expensive, there will be less choice, it will be slower and more complicated to do.”

Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export and International Trade, told the BBC it was important small businesses have “the knowledge, the expertise and the support to cope with the new processes and requirements”.

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However, he said he supported the “truly digital” plans and claimed one European food provider the institute was working with said it would reduce its costs by up to £30m a year through the digital-first approach.

Cabinet Office minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: “Our proposals strike a balance between giving consumers and businesses confidence while reducing the costs and friction for businesses, which in turn will help to grow the economy.”

However, the Liberal Democrats said the new model would “make trade between us and Europe harder”.

“The government’s claims that these plans are going to ease trading chaos are downright dishonest,” said Lib Dem Treasury spokeswoman Sarah Olney.

The government will spend six weeks consulting with business before publishing a final model for trade checks later in the year.

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