Seafood and meat exports to the EU Contents

4The delays to import checks

49.Import checks for most SPS products entering Great Britain from the EU will be introduced later this year. From 1 October, EHCs will be needed for POAO, and from 1 January 2022 such imports will have to enter Great Britain via a suitable Border
Control Post (BCP) and checks at the border will commence. For live animal imports, the requirements commence on 1 March 2022.173 Currently only those POAO under “safeguard measures” due to a new or emerging disease imported from the EU are required to be accompanied by an EHC, with physical checks undertaken at the point of destination on a “risk-led” basis.174 In contrast the EU introduced controls and checks for all British exports to the EU immediately after the end of the Transition Period on 1 January 2021.175

50.The timetable for the introduction of these import controls has been revised twice. Initially in February 2020, the Government stated it would introduce full controls and checks from 1 January 2021, in part because “the EU has said it will enforce checks on our goods”.176 In June 2020, with the covid-19 pandemic having taken hold, the Government announced a phased introduction of controls and checks on EU SPS imports, “recognising the impact of coronavirus on businesses’ ability to prepare”.177 The Government described this as a “flexible and pragmatic approach” that would “give industry extra time to make necessary arrangements”.178 Under this approach, EHCs would have been required for EU imports of POAO from 1 April 2021, and checks at the UK border would have commenced from 1 July 2021.179 In March 2021, with less than a month until the new arrangements began, the Government announced a further six-month delay to these dates saying that it had “listened to businesses who have faced an unprecedented challenge during the pandemic”.180

51.The Secretary of State said that the first revision to the timetable was a consequence of the Government recognising that there were “uncertainties about how ready people would be and how things would flow at the border from day one”.181 As a result, the Government decided that it “should phase things in” in order to “gradually allow people to acclimatise themselves to the changes” following the end of the Transition Period.182 Mr Eustice took the view that the purpose of SPS controls and checks was to “ensure the safety of our food” rather than a “trade retaliation mechanism” which was “why we believed in the phased approach”.183 In relation to the second revision to the timetable, the Secretary of State said that Great Britain would have been “ready to put in place the documentary checks we intended from 1 April”, but that the “anxiety was that there might not be sufficient veterinary capacity in the EU and that EU businesses might not be prepared”. The Government had therefore taken the decision to make “a modest change and move that back slightly, to ensure that, as we come out of lockdown and try to get back on our feet after this pandemic, we are not causing unnecessary friction at the border”.184 Shane Brennan, Chief Executive of the Cold Chain Federation, cautioned that the extra time created by the 6 month delay did not guarantee businesses in the EU would be ready for the new timetable.185 He said that by delaying again, “the signal that has been sent” to EU businesses was that “’it is all going to be pushed back’. We are potentially postponing that lack of trader readiness problem” and that there would still be disruption when SPS imports checks were eventually introduced, a view shared by Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive of the British Ports Association.186

52.Witnesses cast doubt on whether British ports would have been ready for the introduction of SPS checks on EU imports from 1 July as the Government had planned. Richard Ballantyne said that “quite frankly, a lot of the infrastructure was not going to be ready” for 1 July, “particularly” because the allocation of the £200 million Government “Port Infrastructure Fund” was only determined in December 2020.187 This fund was designed to help privately-owned ports prepare for the introduction of import checks; many projects did not receive the full allocation they had applied for.188 It was reported in early March 2020 that Portsmouth International Port had scrapped plans for a live animal inspection post having receiving just over half of the funding it sought, while the Government-led project to build an inland border checkpoint for the Port of Dover—which handles by far the highest volume of lorry traffic of the UK’s ports—was described as still being a “muddy field”.189 If the introduction of SPS checks at the border had commenced from 1 July 2021, Mr Ballantyne said that “one or two ports would have infrastructure ready, and gradually ports through the later summer would go online, but how would you have enforced that at various locations, with big locations potentially not being ready first?”.190 He described the Government’s decision to delay the timetable for SPS import checks by six months as “very pragmatic”, but accepted that the delay would create “consequences … , of course, on trade balance”.191

53.The National Pig Association said that it was “concerned” about the delay as it “perpetuates the imbalance between import and exports, giving EU companies a competitive advantage”, adding: “if EU products can be imported without checks and therefore at a lower cost, it ultimately impacts on the price British farmers will receive for their pigs”.192 Shane Brennan cautioned that the longer there was an asymmetry in SPS checks between the EU and Great Britain, “the more imbalance there is and the more reinforcing of the balance of trade differences there is on inbound versus outbound” and “businesses are going to make strategic decisions about where they locate, how they locate and what they move where”.193 The Secretary of State accepted that it would be “galling” for British companies that their EU competitors did not currently face the same SPS checks when importing to Great Britain, although he said that it would be a “short-term difference”.194

54.As the BVA noted, SPS checks “form a vital part of the biosecurity framework”.195 Gary McFarlane, Northern Ireland Director of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said that “there are risks to public health from delaying the introduction of [SPS] checks” on EU imports, especially in regard to “areas such as allergic reactions and mislabelling of products”, not least because of the “considerable … potential to make significant amounts of money” for unscrupulous traders and criminal gangs, for example. Mr McFarlane added that “food crime is still a current risk” and highlighted that the Food Standards Agency’s National Food Crime Unit had “increased its capacity significantly just prior to our exit from the European Union”.196

55.The Secretary of State said that there was “not really a risk in food safety” by delaying SPS import measures by a further six months.197 He noted that EU food standards remained “fully in line with British law” given regulatory alignment persisted until 31 December 2020, meaning that “goods coming from the European Union fundamentally do not pose any more threat today than they did” before the Transition Period ended.198 The FSA said that it “assess[ed] that the overall risk to food and feed safety has not increased as a result of leaving the EU” and that it had “seen no evidence to suggest that we are more at risk from food crime”.199

56.Great Britain should have introduced SPS checks on all EU imports from 1 January 2021 to match the position taken by the EU. The continued absence of SPS checks and controls on EU imports undermines the competitiveness of British seafood and meat businesses in their home market, creates incentives to relocate factories and jobs to the EU, and increases risks around food safety and biosecurity. It also reduces the incentive for the European Commission to negotiate on SPS checks and controls while EU businesses mostly face no such checks when exporting to Great Britain. It is crucial that the Government’s latest timetable for the introduction of SPS checks for EU imports is adhered to. The Government should ensure that a digitised process for certifying EHCs for EU imports is ready no later than 1 January 2022, so that reciprocity can be offered to the European Commission to speed up movements in both directions. The Government should inform the Committee every month of progress towards introducing the SPS import checks and controls.

173 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Animal and Plant Health Agency, ‘Importing or moving live animals, animal products and high risk food and feed not of animal origin’, accessed 7 April 2021

175 European Commission, ‘Questions & Answers: EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement’, accessed 7 April 2021

176 “Government confirms plans to introduce import controls”, Cabinet Office press release, 10 February 2020

177 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (SME0036) para 8.1

178 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (SME0036) para 8.1

179 “Government accelerates border planning for the end of the Transition Period”, Cabinet Office news story, 12 June 2020

180 “Government focuses on recovery from Covid with new timeline for border control processes on import of goods”, Cabinet Office press release, 11 March 2021

188 Department for Transport, Port Infrastructure Fund - successful applicants, 17 December 2020; “Port Infrastructure Fund Allocations Won’t Be Sufficient, says BPA”, SeaNews, 17 December 2020; Q127

189British ports say they are not ready for Brexit customs checks”, The Guardian, 7 March 2020; “Why Dover is braced for customs gridlock after Brexit”, Financial Times, 18 October 2017

192 National Pig Association (SME0039) p 1

195 British Veterinary Association (SME0027) para 3

199 Food Standards Agency (SME0038) pp 3–4

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