The UK’s fresh produce industry faces a significant challenge with the introduction of new post-Brexit import controls, which are set to increase the cost of importing fruits and vegetables from the EU. This development is expected to have a substantial impact on consumer prices.
Nigel Jenney, Chief Executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), has expressed disappointment and alarm regarding these changes, explaining that the government’s reclassification of many fruit and vegetable consignments from the EU as “medium risk” for Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) purposes from 31st October is anticipated to add £200 million to import costs.
Jenney told ITV News, “These increased costs will apply in October and be passed straight on to consumers,” highlighting the direct impact on the public. He also noted the potential threat to the viability of numerous small businesses.
The FPC’s analysis indicates that 65% of lorries arriving in the UK carry mixed loads of goods, which are more likely to be inspected under the new system. This could lead to delays for smaller importers. Jenney has suggested that allowing businesses to conduct their own official inspections, subject to regular monitoring, could significantly reduce the annual cost of extra paperwork and delays.
However, he also raised concerns about the system’s efficiency, stating, “I doubt there are enough officials in the EU to generate the volume of Phytosanitary Certificates which are going to be required.”
In 2022, the UK imported £3 billion of vegetables and £4.5 billion of fruit, with a significant proportion coming from the EU. The introduction of Phytosanitary Certificates for a substantial portion of these imports is seen as a major change.
Steve Cock, a director at The Customs House Ltd, also commented on the situation, saying, “The announcement by Defra, that it will require Phytosanitary Certificates for a significant proportion of the fruit and veg arriving from the EU, is utter madness.”
He added that while this might not significantly increase the costs for moving a lorryload of a single product to a supermarket, it will be highly inflationary for businesses that move smaller, often mixed consignments.
A government spokesperson responded to these concerns, stating, “We are committed to delivering the most advanced border in the world. The Border Target Operating Model is key to delivering this, protecting the UK’s biosecurity.”
They also mentioned that the government is taking a phased approach to these import controls to support businesses and ensure the efficient trade of fruit and vegetables between the EU and Great Britain.
The introduction of these new import controls marks a significant shift for the UK’s fresh produce industry, with potential implications for both businesses and consumers.
The situation underscores the need for careful consideration and potential adjustments to ensure a smooth transition and minimal impact on the availability and pricing of fresh produce in the UK.