The issue is of particular concern and poses serious challenges for the food industry since, unlike other sectors, many of its products have limited shelf-life and are susceptible to a range of risks if they are not manufactured, packed, transported and sold in accordance with strict health and safety rules and standards, warned Andrew Kuyk, director general of the Provision Trade Federation (PTF).
“While some of these can be verified through certification and other paper or electronic traceability systems, physical inspections can and do play an important role in safeguarding human and animal health,” said Kuyk.
The level and frequency of these checks currently varies between goods in free circulation within the EU Single Market and those entering from, or going to, third countries outside the EU, Kuyk added.
‘A step change in such checks’
“There would, therefore, potentially be a step change in such checks on products crossing the UK border if we were no longer to qualify for the same treatment as other EU Member States. This could add significantly to cost for all concerned and put the UK at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.
Kuyk also raised the prospect of “major capacity issues” for the UK authorities concerned, including port health and local authorities, as well as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
“PTF is concerned that these issues have not yet been fully explored within government,” said Kuyk. “We are working with other trade bodies to ensure that they are fully addressed as part of the government’s stated aim of ensuring frictionless trade in future.”
In conjunction with other industry organisations, including the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the PTF has called on the government to work in partnership with the food industry by setting up a joint task force to address the challenges posed by sanitary inspection checks on food at the border following Brexit.
‘Products of animal origin’
Most food products crossing the EU’s external borders – particularly products of animal origin – are subject to a range of sanitary and/or veterinary certification and inspection requirements, which necessitate physical checks at point of entry.
If, after Brexit, the UK was subjected to the EU’s standard third country requirements post-Brexit, this would prove costly as exporters would face disruptive border checks and inspections.
In a joint statement issued prior to the triggering by Prime Minster Theresa May last week of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, signalling the formal start of the UK’s exit from the EU, various food groups – including the FDF, British Retail Consortium and National Farmers Union – called for a smooth and orderly Brexit in which transitional arrangements were agreed that maintained frictionless trade in goods between the UK and the EU, avoiding costly and disruptive customs checks, processes and procedures.
“FDF, on behalf of manufacturers, alongside our partners across the food chain, will work tirelessly to help government to secure the best possible outcomes on future trade, access to the right workforce, regulation and ensuring a seamless border with the Republic of Ireland,” said FDF director general Ian Wright.