The Fresh Produce Consortium has slammed the government for leaving “so many unanswered questions” on a “half-baked” border policy after Britain withdraws from the EU at the end of the year.
FPC chief executive Nigel Jenney said the fresh produce industry has been given precious little information on the future of cross-border trade, with the current border model deemed “unworkable” for businesses, and tempting a “perfect storm” of problems in 2021.
The FPC’s concerns come just over four months before the UK is set to depart from the EU for good on 31st December, following a year-long transition period.
“We are not confident that government departments will adopt the most effective solutions to support the UK fresh produce industry,” said Jenney.
“We believe that the Border Operating Model for trading between the EU and GB as it stands will be unworkable for many business unless the UK Government listens to us and makes changes now. We are not prepared to wait until the autumn for the outcomes of current discussions.”
“The UK Government is calling for businesses to prepare for the end of the transition period yet there are so many unanswered questions at present. How can an industry prepare when it lacks essential information and does not know if it will have sufficient labour? We are calling time now on the UK Government to avoid a ‘perfect storm’ for 2021.”
FPC has been asking the UK Government to provide essential information which is missing from the Border Operating Model and the Northern Ireland Protocol.
For example, importers need to know which products are deemed to be ‘controlled’ or ‘high risk’ and therefore need pre-notification and checks; where consignments will be cleared and whether these facilities will be resourced properly to avoid delays and increased costs.
Last year Boris Johnson repeatedly assured businesses there would be no border checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, before the government quietly U-turned, telling officials in a letter that they were building inspection posts.
“It’s vital that traders have a simple and efficient process to follow to pre-notify consignments and clear customs, as well as covering plant health and food safety requirements. Government systems must be integrated so traders don’t have to make multiple entries across different systems,” Jenney added.
“Businesses which have only ever traded with the EU will be coming new to many requirements and will need government support. Not all may use an intermediary to do their customs declarations.”
“If we have further Covid-19 outbreaks we could face another difficult trading period over the winter months just as we prepare for the end of the transition period with the EU. We know the industry will be operating differently in January 2021, but we need the UK Government to work with us to help businesses prepare. We cannot do this with a unsatisfactory half-baked model.”