Freshfel Europe has called on the EU and the UK to make a last joint effort to conclude negotiations on a comprehensive Brexit trade agreement before the end of the year.
In addition, the association has urged both blocs to speed-up dialogue on technical, trade facilitation and contingency measures to minimise port congestion disruption in January 2021 and beyond.
Notably, Freshfel said, this included further clarity about import checks and inland sites, electronic certification and fast-track channels for highly perishable produce.
EU and UK negotiators were asked to continue efforts to bring about a conclusion of a comprehensive trade and partnership agreement before the end of December, which is crucial for both EU and UK businesses in the fresh fruit and vegetables sector, as well as for UK consumers.
Freshfel pointed out that on 1 January 2021, EU fresh fruit and vegetable operators will be increasing their exports outside of the single market by 60 per cent as the UK represents approximately 3m tonnes of EU exports per year.
From a UK perspective, EU imports of fresh produce represent 40 per cent of their domestic demand.
In the absence of a EU-UK agreement, tariffs of 2 per cent to 16 per cent will be imposed in the main EU categories exported to the UK.
This additional cost, particularly for commodities with high duties like peaches (16 per cent), clementines and mandarins (16 per cent), grapes (14 per cent), cucumber and other vegetables (12 per cent), may have a 'devastating economic impact for operators', and lead to strong disturbances in the single market if produce stays in the EU-27 instead of reaching the UK market.
In turn, this could lead to lesser availability and higher prices in the UK, Freshfel noted.
“There is an urgent need for clarity in technical, trade facilitation and contingency measures to ensure trade flows continue without major disruptions after 1 January 2021,' confirmed Philippe Binard, Freshfel general delegate. 'Fruit and vegetables are a highly perishable essential commodity and they must be able to continue to reach UK consumers in a timely manner and with the same level of high quality.'
The association said that currently, the sector is extremely concerned that many details remain unknown, such as the number of UK inland sites foreseen, the percentages of UK checks different commodities will be subject to, and the potential solutions for electronic transmission of phytosanitary and other certification between the EU and the UK.
'Clarity in these matters is essential, particularly in the current context where points of entry are already showing signs of congestion due to the global impact of Covid-19 in slowing-down trade flows,' Freshfel said.
'To avoid major bottlenecks in UK points of entry and losses in food quality and waste of fresh fruit and vegetables going through the Channel, the sector urges EU and UK authorities to enable a fast-track channel or green lanes for highly perishable fresh produce to reach UK consumers.'
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