“Brexit 2.0” Unleashes New Trade Border Challenges for UK Food Imports

As the clock ticks down to a significant milestone in post-Brexit Britain, the government is set to implement a series of new trade border measures, colloquially dubbed “Brexit 2.0.” This marks the final phase of adjustments following the UK’s departure from the EU’s customs union and single market.

The focal point of these changes is the introduction of stringent post-Brexit requirements for food importers, adding a layer of complexity and red tape. These alterations particularly impact food and plant product imports from the European Union and industry insiders are bracing themselves for what has been described as the most significant shake-up since the original Brexit decision.

A key component of the new measures is the mandatory inclusion of an expensive veterinary certificate with shipments of fresh food and plant imports from the EU. While this requirement officially comes into effect on 31st January, actual checks at the border will not be implemented until three months later, providing a brief grace period for businesses to adapt.

Acknowledging the inevitable increase in red tape, the government concedes that these changes will lead to higher food prices, contributing to a 0.2% point rise in the overall level of prices over three years. This anticipated impact on food inflation, while notable, is not expected to create a shock similar to the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which prompted a delay in implementing checks last year when food inflation was soaring.

Tom Southall, Director of the Cold Chain Federation, succinctly captures the sentiment surrounding these changes. “There’s never been a good time to do it, which is why it’s been delayed five times,” he says.

The repeated delays, however, have created concerns about reciprocity. While UK food and farm exports to the EU have faced increased red tape and delays for three years, EU competitors have enjoyed uninterrupted access to the UK market. The farming industry has voiced apprehension over potential threats to UK biosecurity, emphasizing the need for a balanced and fair trade environment.

With the changes finally coming into effect four years post-Brexit, some industry insiders fear that a lack of awareness in individual EU nations, combined with potential shortages of veterinary professionals, could prompt smaller EU businesses to reconsider supplying the UK market. The potential impact is expected to be more pronounced on deli counters than on supermarket shelves.

The complex web of challenges poses a severe stress test for the cross-continental food supply chain designed for the timely delivery of highly perishable goods. As the phased introduction of controls begins, the true impact of these changes will unfold, with freight organizations cautioning about potential significant issues in the autumn.

As the experiment unfolds starting tomorrow, the resilience of the UK’s pan-European food supply chains within this intricate system of certifications and checks will be put to the test. The potential disruptions anticipated in the coming months could shape the narrative around the lasting consequences of the final piece of the Brexit puzzle.

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