The flower industry warns that new UK border checks will be a disaster waiting to happen

The Dutch flower-growing sector has asked for the planned introduction of new border checks post-Brexit to be deferred until 2025. They cited “significant concerns” regarding the industry’s readiness for these changes.

From the end of January onwards, the UK government will introduce new requirements regarding paperwork for EU businesses sending animal and plants products to the UK. Physical inspections are expected to begin in April.

In a letter sent to the UK Government, the Dutch Association of Wholesalers in Floricultural Products (VGB), called for a postponement. The letter also warned that some key computer systems weren’t fully ready.

Matthijs Mesken, director of VGB, wrote: “The proposed deadlines raise significant concern within our industry.” The additional requirements are coming into force ahead of the critical period in the year when high trading volumes are driven by Mothering Sunday, Mother’s Day and Easter.

The UK government is adamant that there will not be any further delays in the introduction of the border. It has already been delayed five times after the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement entered into force on 1 January 2021.

The system will be implemented in three phases. First, the export health certificates on January 31, then physical inspections of medium- and high risk plant and animal products by April 30, and finally safety and security declarations for all goods from October 31.

Hendrik Jan Klaosterboer is the secretary of Anthos – another Dutch trade association that represents the nursery plants industry and flower bulbs – and he expressed “great concern” over the physical inspection of delicate plants at port border posts, and the delays it would cause.

“We are afraid that this will have an impact on the logistics, and damage products such as large mature trees with rootballs, where skilled people can spend up to five or six hours loading. “It is not possible to unload these products on the border,” said he.

Experts in trade and border issues echoed this concern, saying that there are serious doubts about whether small businesses in the EU know the requirements to obtain complex certifications for food and animal product from the end January.

James Barnes, chair of the Horticultural trades association, which represents UK plants and nurseries, noted that the process for importing a Dutch petunia had increased from 19 steps to 59 since the Brexit. The move to introduce border checks would now add further costs and delay.

He said that “the infrastructure is not in place” to handle the amount of trade coming through.

The UK government has acknowledged the fact that the new risk based checks would cost businesses £330mn more in red tape, but claimed they were essential to maintaining UK biosecurity and creating an equal playing field for British importers who had faced similar checks while exporting into the EU.

Business and trade groups warned that new checks on EU Exporters could reduce the number of smaller EU Businesses willing to trade with the UK. This is similar to what happened in 2021, when many UK SMEs stopped exporting into the EU.

Marco Forgione is the director-general of Institute of Export and International Trade in the UK. He said that there were strong anecdotal indications that EU companies weren’t ready for the change.

He said: “We are growing anxious that the level of preparedness within the EU is low.” “Even the recognition that things will change is low and it decreases with decreasing business size.”

The IEIT also noted that while UK businesses had been prepared to absorb additional red tape costs in order to keep trading with the EU after January 2020, the smaller size of the UK market might make EU business less willing to follow suit, driving up prices for the UK.
William Bain of the British Chambers of Commerce’s trade policy department warned that traders of agri-foods were unaware of how prepared EU companies are.

He said that the trade between EU and GB in agri-food would be adversely affected by increased costs, paperwork and uncertainty regarding the treatment of consignments consisting of many different animal products and plants.

Andrew Opie is the director of sustainability and food at the British Retail Consortium. He said that the government has stated it will work to increase awareness in the major EU exporting nations, including Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, and Spain.

“You’d expect the big players to be prepared, but a smaller one — say, an Italian expert in cured meats — may have a harder time. Even the UK government is concerned about whether regional governments in EU are ready. He added, “It’s an unknown.”

The Dutch flower exporters warned in their letter that delays caused by border post inspections could lead to a new shortage of truck drivers on their delivery routes.

Even relatively short inspection delays can lead to over 8.5 hour delays when drivers have to take a rest stop. Inefficient operations will only worsen the shortage of truckers, it warned.

The complainants also said that the application period for a scheme designed to streamline border procedures for major exporters was not open, and a new computerized system for registering animal and plant products — IPAFFS – wasn’t fully functional.

They warned that out of the total of 40,000 plants shipped from the Netherlands to Britain, several thousand still could not be declared accurately due to a lack individual identifier code. A race was underway to create the codes before the border launch.

Mesken, director of VGB, claimed that until then operators entered the dummy “xxx” code as a workaround. He argued that this “doesn’t align with the UK objective. . . “for improved data collection and more robust risk-based approaches”.

According to Peter Hardwick of the British Meat Processors Association (an industry body), the meat industry, too, is preparing for changes. The industry relies heavily on Ireland for its beef, and the EU as a whole for its pork.
Hardwick stated that the industry was led to believe that UK inspectors will be flexible during the first phase of border implementation when Export Health Certificates is required in order to prevent shortages and delays. However, there would still be an impact on the prices.

“Our understanding of the law is that if an EHC is missing, a vehicle will not be returned, at least not until April. However, if you are checking for EHCs, you must still stop vehicles. He said that things would be slower after January 31.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that technology would help reduce the cost of the new border and that officials would strive to minimize disruptions in the enforcement of the so-called Border Target Operating Model.

The department stated that it was working with all stakeholders in the UK and across Europe, as well as with trading partners throughout the world, to prepare for the BTOM.