The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) is calling for a one-year ‘orientation phase’ from January 1 to fill in the gaps on how UK will trade with the UK next year.
With the end of the UK Transition Period now just over two weeks away, the calls reflect the association’s concerns about a number of key issues that remain unresolved and could prevent UK meat exports heading to the EU. There is mounting anxiety in the meat sector over the ‘wall of red tape and extra costs’ that exporters will now inevitably run into on December 31, the association said.
“This is so serious that many firms who have been happily supplying customers in Europe for years will simply lose that business. Not a great start for the new ‘global Britain’,” it said.
An ‘orientation phase’ that can be staggered over the coming twelve months would provide them time to fill in all the missing detail on how trade with the EU will work, and gradually introduce the changes.
“It would avoid a damaging shock to our food supply chain and, importantly, preserve our existing trade with Europe,” BMPA said.
Even if Government does agree some sort of ‘deal’ with the EU, there is now no time left to negotiate the kind of full and detailed free trade agreement that would resolve all the issues that are set to hamper trade after January 1, it warned.
The key areas of concern are:
The first unresolved issue is the sheer volume of extra red tape and paperwork that will suddenly be needed when sending products of animal origin to Europe, our biggest overseas market by a large margin, the BMPA said.
The vast majority of this trade (75-80%) involves small, grouped consignments of different goods that originate from a variety of meat plants. These small consignments are usually bound for several different delivery points in Europe.
After December 321, each and every individual consignment will now need a separate Export Health Certificate (EHC) signed by a vet. To compound the problem, the more pick-up and drop-off points that are involved in the supply chain, the more EHCs are needed.
At the moment, the key issue of ‘Groupage’ remains unresolved. This allows exporters to group together lots of small deliveries into one big one. As it stands there is no procedure for certifying a grouped consignment of fresh and frozen meat that isn’t packed for retail – the bulk of our exports. Without this virtually all shipments to (and also from) the EU will have to cease, BMPA warned.
Not enough vets
We simply don’t have enough vets who will be in the right place at the right time to inspect the loads, verify traceability paperwork and sign the Export Health Certificates, the association added.
“Government insists that they have calculated that enough vets will be available but can’t give us any proof and are refusing to engage with industry to stress test the numbers,” it said.
“Here’s the problem: Defra have estimated that an additional 300,000 Export Health Certificates will be needed per year. But even a cursory look at the kinds of volumes that just a handful of BMPA members are expecting, and the numbers start to look alarming. That 300,000 total could be surpassed easily by just four companies in beef and lamb consignments alone.
“When you add all the other manufacturers of products of animal origin including dairy, the number of extra Export Health Certificates that will be needed will run into the millions per year. At 20-40 minutes per certificate, our current supply of available vets will be completely swamped.”
An un-tested certification system
The third big issue of concern for BMPA is the system for issuing export certificates itself.
“Government has been promoting its new Export Health Certificate online application portal, but this new online system has not been stress tested to see if it will cope with the huge flood of extra applications that will hit on 1 January.
“BMPA members are already reporting that applications are taking longer to process and this is without the uplift in demand that is coming down the track.”
What needs to happen
Given that a full and detailed free trade agreement that would resolve all the above issues is impossible before December 31, the Government needs to show us their contingency plan for when things don’t work as planned. “They’ve alluded to having one but so far haven’t shown us anything,” the association said.
“Better still, as part of the final negotiations with the EU, the Government should build in an ‘orientation phase’ to allow time to iron out the technical issues described above and then introduce changes in stages throughout 2021 to avoid a damaging shock to our imports and exports on January 1.”
“We are trying to help Defra understand the unintended consequences we will face if this is not resolved and to offer practical solutions, but at the moment we’re not convinced they are listening.”