Fifth Deferral of Post-Brexit Food Import Regulations Stirs Inflation Fears

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In another perceived strain for food importers, it appears additional post-Brexit regulations and fees have been deferred once more. This marks the fifth occurrence of such a delay being imposed on the changes related to the import protocols for agricultural and food products, a scenario that is stirring concern over potential food price inflation.

In a significant acknowledgement, the government recognized this would result in an increase in overall inflation, albeit slightly at a rate of 0.2%. These inspections are now slated for introduction come the conclusion of April 2024. Despite the postponement primarily being a result of the Treasury’s concerns over the influence on food prices, the repercussions will inevitably be felt when the alterations take effect next year.

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A primary contributor to this impending food import price inflation is the ‘common user charge’ applied to every consignment that enters the UK via Dover or the Eurotunnel upon its arrival at the colossal new facility in Sevington, Kent. Potentially reaching a staggering £43, this fee signifies a manageable issue for larger importers, but could be insurmountably prohibitive for smaller importers of European edibles.

Furthermore, consignments will necessitate expensive endorsement by certified veterinarians, resulting in additional checks and expenses. This deviation from the tradition of smooth and free trade was inevitable, given the nature of the 2020 Brexit agreement with the EU.

Agricultural groups have expressed concern over the unbalanced trade situation, as British exports undergo thorough EU controls while EU exports in the UK receive minimal oversight. This also raises concerns in relation to biosecurity due to the reduced number of checks.

While food industry representatives generally view the delay as beneficial, as it moves the primary change to a time when the UK relies less on EU food imports, it is also seen as a ‘food import tax’ due to the additional fees and regulations. Some individuals question whether these measures will be implemented at all, in light of the approaching general election next year.

Regardless, the ministers maintain that the changes will be enacted, and have taken measures to curtail the additional red tape. The current model for UK border trade operations justifies these changes, stating that the fallout from a serious outbreak of plant or animal disease would be far more detrimental than a 0.2% increase in inflation.

However, the Labour Party, if victorious at the next election, plans to negotiate a veterinary deal with the EU in an effort to reduce the impact of these checks and ensure affordable food for the populace. The party’s strategy includes disposing of the race for the bottom standards and limiting Britain’s extent of divergence from EU regulations, similar to deals EU has with Switzerland and New Zealand.

Ultimately, the food industry is keeping one eye on the political climate and the possibility that if these checks are introduced in April, they might be swiftly terminated. Or even, they might not be implemented at all. A sixth delay is within the realm of possibilities.