The Brexit ‘goat rodeo’

Jackie Kemp writes:

The Food and Drinks Federation CEO Ian Wright wrote to Brexit minister David Frost  and environment minister George Eustice recently to warn that without more clarity over the next tranche of import regulations  “we face a real threat that key supply chains could break down.” 

This story was covered in industry paper “The Grocer” on August 12 but it does not seem to have been picked up by major news outlets. This is somewhat surprising – Brexit is already causing a paperwork “goat rodeo” for both exporters and importers and adding another round will be challenging. Almost one in five of the UK’s small businesses have stopped exporting to Europe, according to manufacturers’ group Make UK. 

From October 1, all food of animal origin, from Parma ham to Italian mozzarella arriving from the EU into the UK will need to be signed off by a vet in its country of origin from October 1 but the Grocer reported this week that, with fewer than 50 days to go, there is no clarity about the detail of this and how it will be enforced. 

The Grocer reported:  “Of all Brexit’s trials and tribulations, new checks from 1 October – ahead of more from January and March – are set to be among the most testing, as any difficulties with the new regime will rapidly filter through to supermarket shelves.

“And as the food industry renews its focus on the upcoming changes, there are growing concerns all is not well. Last week, the Fresh Produce Consortium warned there was still a ‘huge amount of uncertainty’ about the readiness of IT systems and border control posts.”

Also on August 12, SNP MP Angus MacNeil tweeted “Brexit isn’t working” after a meeting with Make UK. He said the organisations’ hundreds of members report huge disruption and “no benefits” as a result of Brexit.

He said: “Large businesses still exporting, with hassles, to the EU, but a lot of small businesses have stopped – 17% of UK exporters are no longer trading as exporters due to Brexit. 50% fall in food and drink exports.” 

Bucking bronco

Meanwhile, logistics experts took to posting anonymously on social media about their distress and frustration caused by the “goat rodeo”  and “sickening” situation they face getting exports out. 

“Tony PK” tweeted: “On Thursday I was told that imports from the Continent, from which our end product is made, are now subject to delays of 8 weeks. That’s up from 6 weeks and before Brexit was 5 days end to end. Who on earth is still spouting this goat rodeo is a good idea?”

Goat race

In a long thread that was trending on the social media app this week an account called Getnorthern tweeted: “I work in #logistics. This current chaos is due to #Brexit. What used to clear customs in minutes when we were in the single market and customs union, or with a trade agreement with another country by virtue of being an EU member, now takes hours or potentially days and a whole load more paperwork and expense. If there’s a fault with the paperwork for any item, the whole shipment potentially gets rejected. We used to be able to get items from Germany to the UK in 2-3 days. The same items now average almost 2 weeks.

“Meanwhile, if I want to ship GB to NI, no one seems to know the rules. Each carrier is having to make their own interpretation of the vague rules and is treating it slightly differently. The EU have, sensibly, created a new XI country code for NI for the remaining 27 member countries to use, which suggests that Northern Ireland will be treated as a separate country.” 

One reply read: “ I also need to remain anonymous because of my job but can confirm a very similar situation. Deliveries we could ship without a moment’s thought and would be there in at most 5 days can now take months. Without any explanation or notice. Even those that do go through without incident are costing almost double, just on carriage. Never mind the material costs. Thank you for speaking up and sorry I can’t but I had more than 6 months on furlough last year and can’t afford to lose this job.”

Another read: “Whereas UPS deliveries to as far afield as Poland/Portugal would have taken 3-5 days at worst, it is now weeks if not months even to France/Germany. We are reimbursing clients in the thousands of Euros because it’s not their fault, whilst absorbing the extra costs of imports on top.” 

Sarah H pointed out that the customs requirements are “Not virtual but paper, actual sheets of paper. Imagine the hold up when one pallet in a whole load is missing a sheet of paper….” Some delays were reportedly caused by errors by overworked and inexperienced vets. 

John Yau replied: “My workplace is suffering exactly the same problem as described and it’s absolutely sickening not being able to complain to anyone. Even the freight forwarders haven’t got a clue what’s going on.”

Import controls

It is not clear to what extent import controls are already in place. I spoke to a local florist yesterday who said that each plant she imports has to have its own paper label attached – and if one is missing the whole consignment is delayed. The added cost per consignment has now gone up to £25. “That’s huge for a small business”. It is a cost that small businesses will struggle to absorb.  EU countries already impose export rules – on January 1, 2022, Britain is scheduled to introduce plant certification rules.

It may be that CEO Ian Wright’s warning is groundless – I am not in a position to say. But I don’t understand why it is not being reported and discussed more widely.

First published by the author on her Substack blog

Featured image via YouTube; goat race by Brent Moore via Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 2.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Goat_Race.jpg

Update:

 European Union statistics, released on August 13, show that the UK’s exports to the Union fell by almost a fifth in the six months from Brexit in January, and are now about half the value of imports from the EU. This did not get much – or any – coverage in the UK media.

According to Eurostat, Ireland’s exports to the rest of the EU also appear to be affected by Brexit. It is the only EU country whose intra-union exports have fallen  – by 5%. According to the table, Irealnd’s exports outwith the EU – including to the UK – are the same as last year. 

The UK is the only one of the EU’s top ten trade partners which has experienced a fall in exports. The Eurostat figures appear to show a different picture from the Office of National Statistics. The ‘Express’ headline on Saturday read: “Project fear dismantled! UK-EU monthly exports again above pre-Brexit 2020 levels”. Reuters reported that this difference is down to a different methodology – the EU is now recording other third country items that pass through the UK en route to EU countries as being from their country of origin instead of from the UK. 

Above is a screenshot from the report, showing the top ten EU trading partners. According to this, the UK’s exports are almost half of imports – it bought €135.5 billion worth of goods and services from the EU, and sold €65.9bn worth to EU countries so a trade deficit of almost €70bn. Last year, that was €128.4bn imports against €80.6bn worth of goods and services exported to the EU. So, a very negative trend in trade.

I guess that means that if the pound loses any ground against theEuro, imports would become more expensive – and that wouldn’t be offset by income from exports. 

see also: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/aug/17/exports-from-ireland-to-great-britain-soar-in-post-brexit-trade-imbalance