Almost 100 years has been spent by EHPs and official veterinarians certifying food products for EU export in the first quarter of 2021, according to a report from an industry group.
The SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) Certification Working Group – representing food and feed, hauliers, farmers, vets, and environmental health – is calling for urgent action by Westminster to renegotiate a new veterinary export agreement with more streamlined processes with the EU.
Its report, Minimising SPS Friction in EU Trade, published today, outlines some of the problems and proposes a series of interim and longer-term measures to help lift the “crippling” restrictions on EU exports.
The report found a staggering 99.3 years has been spent certifying products alone, based on each consignment taking around two hours to issue export health certificates (EHCs). This figure does not take into account the time spent on additional admin by exporting companies or by the Animal and Plant Agency (which issues the EHCs) or the extra time needed by hauliers to get produce through.
MP Roger Gale, who today chaired an evidence session of the cross-party UK Trade and Business Commission on this issue, said: “This important report highlights the systemic challenges facing food exporters and the need for urgent solutions.
“This will all help inform the cross-party recommendations we are developing on how current barriers to trade with the EU can be addressed.”
While a drop in exports immediately following EU withdrawal were explained away by Westminster as “teething”, the problems have not gone away. The Office for National Statistics reported a drop in exports of £8.9bn in the first quarter of this year. Yet full SPS import controls, which will likely worsen the situation, have not yet come into force as the UK is still in a grace period until 2022.
So while the latest mainstream headlines around EU-UK trade difficulties resulting in a “sausage war” make the situation almost sound comical, it is having serious consequences squashing UK business, and fuelling problems around the Northern Ireland Protocol.
CIEH is a member of the SPS Certification Working Group and its Northern Ireland director Gary McFarlane, who gave evidence to the UK Trade and Business Commission today, said: “It is important that alternative markets and trade deals are created to compensate for the loss of trade and income to our sectors that came from our EU market share.
“Part of this is to negotiate a form of mutual veterinary agreement with the European Union, which would ease the problems of trading food and feed between Great Britain and the EU, Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and from EU to Great Britain, when import controls take effect.
“It is important that the Government acts to implement SPS’s recommendations and resolve the severe restrictions to exports that have arisen post-Brexit.”
The report makes a number of recommendations around improving the current system to “remove archaic bureaucracy”; reviewing requirements for inspection and certification; and negotiating a mutual veterinary agreement with the EU.
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “The rigid but inconsistent enforcement of ‘third country’ trading rules is eroding the profitability and potential viability of exporting products of animal origin to the EU and NI – even though the differences between the food standards are virtually non-existent”.
In addition to CIEH there are at least 23 other members of the working group including: British Veterinary Association; British Meat Processors Association; National Farmers Union of England and Wales; Road Haulage Association; and Dairy UK.