Post-Brexit controls on imports of food, plant and animal products to Britain from the EU have come into force.
Health certificates will now be required for EU products ranging from cut flowers to fresh produce including meat, fruit and vegetables.
Some industry bodies have expressed concerns that the rules could cause delays and increase costs, but others said they would help British farmers be more competitive.
The government said its border model would “minimize burdens on traders”.
The UK left the EU exactly four years ago, but it took some time for the government to implement new trade rules – legally required by the Brexit deal – for goods traveling from EU to UK.
Wednesday marks the start of the changes as Britain begins to reverse the free movement of these goods, allowed since the creation of the EU’s single market in 1993. Red tape already applies to British exporters trading in the ‘other direction for three years.
Implementation of the changes was delayed five times, in part to give businesses time to prepare and reduce disruption to supply chains. The new border controls will also be phased in over the next year, with physical checks starting on April 30.
Subsequent physical checks raised fears of disruption to companies’ supply chains. For example, trucks carrying goods could be stopped at ports to ensure they have the proper documentation. Concerns remain that additional controls would lead to higher import costs for businesses and, therefore, higher prices for consumers.
But from Wednesday the main change is the introduction of “export health certificates” for imports of “medium risk” animal products, as well as plants and plant products imported into Britain from the EU . The trade rules cover products ranging from cut flowers and cheese to fish and meat.
This means that a veterinary health check will need to be carried out in the EU for every consignment of meat, fruit and vegetables intended to enter Britain.
Although not all products require checks, in practice importers tend to have a mix of goods, so most shipments will suffice, according to industry experts.
Checks are also being applied for the first time to goods coming from Ireland, but the government has said its Windsor framework means goods will flow freely to and from Northern Ireland.
Ben Appleton of Liverpool Wholesale Flowers told the BBC that additional bureaucracy was not necessary.
“A lot of it is already checked before it leaves anyway. For plants in particular we have plant passports in place anyway and this was all done before Brexit,” he said.
“In practice it’s just additional costs. That’s it, plain and simple. And it’s another set of costs that we have to pass on to the florist, (and) potentially to the people on the High Street. “
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has raised concerns about physical inspections which are due to begin in three months.
Time is now running out for new controls on imported meat which will arrive on April 30, “but it is far from certain that this will not lead to disruption of supply and an increase in the cost of some of our products. meat base.
Britain imports 22% of its beef, 21% of its sheepmeat and 49% of its pork, and relies on the EU for the majority of these imports, the BMPA said.
The trade body added that it had been warned of a lack of veterinary capacity among EU exporting countries and that some EU veterinarians may not be prepared to sign the health certificates needed to be able to export meat. , due to divergent requirements since Brexit.
“Put simply, if vets are unable to sign the documents, consignments of meat may not even leave the factory, let alone arrive at a UK border checkpoint,” said the BMPA.
The government admitted that red tape and additional controls would increase food prices, but not as much as in recent times. He projects that these controls could increase inflation by 0.2 percentage points over three years.
He added that health certificates were being “digitized and simplified” from current paper forms and were a step towards “making the UK the most advanced border in the world”.
“Our aim is to have border controls that maximize the protection of the British population from dangers such as drugs and animal and human disease while minimizing disruption to legitimate trade,” said Minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe. of the Cabinet Office.
“We have worked extensively with traders and businesses to design the controls and will continue to listen to their feedback,” Baroness Neville-Rolfe said.
Different sectors, different needs
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) says the livestock and dairy sectors are pushing for rapid implementation of import controls to safeguard the UK’s biosecurity – protecting against animal diseases and imported plants – and its competitiveness.
Over the past three years, delays in introducing controls have disadvantaged UK producers as they were subject to EU controls, while EU exporters benefited from “unfettered access to the UK market “.
But Minette Batters, president of the NFU, said it was essential that border controls recognized the “different needs and nuances” of each sector.
She stressed that while breeding companies need to be sure that border controls protect against disease and prevent illegal trade, delays in horticultural supply chains could result in plants being “damaged or destroyed”. .
Biosecurity Minister Lord Douglas-Miller added: “The controls introduced today strike the right balance between trade and biosecurity. »
But William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chamber of Commerce, said there were still unanswered questions about the plans.
“The government has still not said what will happen if goods entering the UK do not have the necessary documentation.
“Will they be prevented from entering or will they be tracked afterwards? This could lead to delays in deliveries if this is not handled properly,” he said.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee also wrote a letter to Environment Secretary Steve Barclay to raise concerns over funding for spot checks at the Port of Dover and the location of the new facility physical checks in Sevington, about 22 miles away. far from the entry point at Dover.