'Resourcing crisis' could hit exports after 1 Jan, industry warns

UK firms exporting food face 'an exponential increase in red tape to comply with EU third country rules'
UK firms exporting food face 'an exponential increase in red tape to comply with EU third country rules'

Farming groups have called for 'urgent action' from government as exporters of Products of Animal Origin face a 'resourcing crisis' after 1 January 2021.

If outstanding issues are not resolved, 2021 export volumes could be reduced by up to half of current levels, a letter sent to Defra Secretary George Eustice warns.

Industry organisations that signed the letter include the NFU, the British Meat Processors Association and the National Pig Association (NPA), among others.

They point out that in 2019, UK meat exports were worth £2.6bn, with dairy exports valued at £2.5bn and fish at £2.3bn, trade that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The groups warn that UK businesses exporting food to the EU are facing ‘an exponential increase in red tape to comply with EU third country rules’.

“We understand that ultimate responsibility is on businesses to prepare to ensure they are legally compliant if they wish to continue to trade after January 1, 2021," the letter says.

"We also accept that some of the existing supply chain arrangements, especially those involving just-in-time delivery constraints or complex arrangements, will have to reorganise in order to continue once the UK is outside the EU single market.

“We do not have unrealistic expectations about the continuation of the status quo. However, we believe that government has to play its part, not just in providing guidance and advice, but to get directly involved in supporting the process by which food achieves the necessary certification to be ready for export to the EU."

The 'imminent resource crisis' includes a lack of vets as certifying officers to meet the 'exponential increase in demand that there will be across the food supply chain on 1 January'.

Although the number of qualified Official Veterinarians doubled in just over a year to around 1,200 in September 2020, the groups say there is no clarity on how many there will be in meeting the estimated ten-fold increase in demand for export health certificates from 2021.

“We do know the vast majority will not be working full time on this and will be attending to other practice duties," the letter explains.

"This resource crisis is compounded by the unnecessary, complex, and costly attestation process you have proposed to underpin the new certification requirements."

While some schemes have been set up to help post-EU Exit trade, these are ‘too complex and confusing’, the organisations say, calling for ‘more decisive policy action to both increase certification resource and simplify the export process’.

“If this does not happen then we expect there to be a reduction of between 50 and 75% in the volume of trade to the EU (especially to Ireland and Northern Ireland) in the months after the January 1, 2021.

"We fear that once this trade is lost it will be extremely difficult to recover.”