Nigel Jenney says he is “extremely concerned” about proposed Border Target Operating Model, warning that it will make imports costly, slow and inefficient

CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium, Nigel Jenny, has called on the Government to heed his organisation’s warnings about its proposed border strategy.

The draft BTOM (Border Target Operating Model) sets out a new approach to importing into the UK, which is set to be introduced from October 2023.

Once implemented, the BTOM will, for the first time, implement the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls on goods entering from the EU.

The Government is proposing for these checks to be carried out by government-controlled border control posts (BCPs) from 31 January 2024.

Speaking to the House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee on 6 July, Jenney said he was “extremely concerned” by the proposed border strategy since BCPs are “highly inefficient”.

“We’ve had years to manage and plan the processes, yet everything is last-minute, and it appears to be poorly thought through,” Jenney added.

He complained that the fresh produce industry is going to have to ”pick up the pieces” and simply cannot absorb the costs it will incur.

These extra costs will instead be passed on to hard-pressed consumers, he warned, since fresh produce companies’ wafer-thin margins leave them with no other option.

“We believe the current proposed strategy will fundamentally compromise our industry’s least-cost, highly efficient supply chain from Europe, which will have considerable and wide-ranging impacts,” Jenney said.

“We will proactively, and we have for years now, offered solutions to the current BCP model, including the adoption of control points. They are facilities which are managed by our industry or our commercial partners.

“A government-managed BCP adds no value for my industry.”

He complained that the Government had rejected the FPC’s suggestion several years ago to allow “responsible” fresh produce businesses to carry out inspections at their own facilities, but that Government did not consider this an inappropriate solution.

“Do you want a few hundred official inspectors managing your border security, or do you want thousands of people managing your border security?” Jenney asked.

“The best part is that you wouldn’t have to pay them because the industry pays for those people. It’s incredibly disheartening that this system will not be available, assuming the 31 January date is the go-live date.

“Our industry will be forced to either use BCPs or control points but still wait for an official inspection by an official officer.”

The FPC’s CEO added: “We don’t manufacture widgets, we don’t keep them in a UK warehouse for six months, hoping someone’s going to buy them. Our produce is literally harvested, packed, and delivered within hours, not days.”

NFU response

By contrast, the NFU has broadly welcomed the Government’s proposed strategy, emphasising that “border controls have a vital role to play in upholding our nation’s biosecurity, food safety and international reputation”.

In a statement made on behalf of its members in May, the NFU said: “Since leaving the EU’s single market at the end of January 2021, the UK government has opted not to check and control product entering from the EU.

“Known as SPS controls, these checks are generally carried out at the border and are something we do for goods entering from other countries around the world.

“However, the government’s failure to implement effective controls on goods entering the UK from the EU has been a significant area of concern for the NFU.

“We therefore welcome the publication of new plans to be applied to all imports irrespective of where they have originated from.”

However, the NFU has called on the Government to publish an assessment of the benefits of BTOM model’s benefits to give ”a clear understanding of the balances and trade-offs that have been taken to manage the competing demands of simplification and cost reduction whilst safeguarding the UK’s borders”.

The House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee plans to release its report by the end of the year to summarise its findings and recommendations.