Farmers warn of 'unequal treatment' as EU import checks to be phased

The National Pig Association (NPA) warned that the revised plan would lead to 'less stringent checks on imports than will be faced by UK exporters'
The National Pig Association (NPA) warned that the revised plan would lead to 'less stringent checks on imports than will be faced by UK exporters'

British pig producers have warned that next year's phased import checks on EU goods coming into the UK could lead to 'unequal treatment' for UK pork.

The UK is to phase-in controls on EU imports from the start 2021 when the Brexit transition period ends at the end of this year.

The government had committed to introduce full import controls on EU goods in January, but the Covid-19 pandemic has forced a rethink.

But while the move will give importers more time to adapt, it means there will be different systems in place in the UK and EU.

The bloc has confirmed that it would implement full checks on UK exports at the start of 2021.

The National Pig Association (NPA) has warned this could result in 'unequal treatment' for UK pork producers.

In February, Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove said full import controls were ‘necessary’ from the start of 2021 to keep UK borders ‘safe and secure’ and to collect the appropriate taxes.

But the government has now opted for a three-stage phased introduction in ‘recognition of the impact of coronavirus on businesses' ability to prepare’.

The announcement means companies will be able to defer customs forms and tariff payments for six months, with some physical checks delayed to July.

Mr Gove has formally notified the EU that the UK will neither accept nor seek any extension to the transition period.

This means from 1 January 2021 the UK will have the autonomy to introduce its own approach to goods imported to GB from the EU.

Mr Gove said: “At the end of this year we will control our own laws and borders which is why we are able to take the sovereign decision to introduce arrangements in a way that gives businesses impacted by coronavirus time to adjust.”

But while import checks will help businesses that import goods from the EU to adapt at a 'very difficult time', the NPA said it hoped this was 'not setting a precedent'.

The group's chief executive, Zoe Davies said one of the NPA's key Brexit asks had always been 'equal treatment of exports and imports'.

"We will have a situation, for six months, where there are less stringent checks on imports than will be faced by UK exporters," she said.

"We could be once again facing a situation where government are allowing major difficulty in UK pork being exported to the EU.”

NPA senior policy adviser, Ed Barker said the announcement highlighted the need for the government to secure a ‘light FTA’ and tariff agreement with the EU by 1 Jan.

"Otherwise it is going to be a very difficult choice - impose low tariffs, import lots of food and cause huge damage to your domestic farming sector or maintain tariffs, including on EU imports, and face major prices rises for consumers,” he said.

He said that assuming there was an agreement on tariffs, there was also the question of whether the tariff collection would be even.

"For EU imports of UK goods, duties will be demanded straight away as the EU is set up to do it, whereas, according to this announcement, UK importers can defer it, which will give EU producers a big advantage on day one.

“Similarly, there will be light touch inspection on EU imports, but this wont apply the other way,” Mr Barker said.

Checks on goods entering UK will be phased-in

Imports will be phased-in in three stages up until 1 July 2021, regardless of whether a deal between the UK and the EU is done or not.

From January 2021: Traders importing standard goods, covering everything from clothes to electronics, will need to prepare for basic customs requirements, such as keeping sufficient records of imported goods, and will have up to six months to complete customs declarations.

While tariffs will need to be paid on all imports, payments can be deferred until the customs declaration has been made. There will be checks on controlled goods like alcohol and tobacco.

Businesses will also need to consider how they account for VAT on imported goods. There will also be physical checks at the point of destination or other approved premises on all high risk live animals and plants.

From April 2021: All products of animal origin (POAO) – for example meat, pet food, honey, milk or egg products – and all regulated plants and plant products will also require pre-notification and the relevant health documentation.

From July 2021: Traders moving all goods will have to make declarations at the point of importation and pay relevant tariffs.

Full Safety and Security declarations will be required, while for SPS commodities there will be an increase in physical checks and the taking of samples: checks for animals, plants and their products will now take place at GB Border Control Posts.