Food industry must strengthen ties with EU and UK post-Brexit

Since January, when the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) took effect, UK food companies that export their products to the EU have been facing the burden of bureaucracy that third countries are dealing with in their trade with the Union. They have to meet various requirements imposed on exports to the EU, such as sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls, including export health certificates (EHCs), advance electronic notification procedures and inspections at border control posts (BCPs), as well as customs and contractual procedures. All these cost extra time and money.

The SPS Certification Working Group, a cross-industry, veterinary and environmental health group, argues that export delays and rejections of products arriving at EU ports that begun in January are now the norm in the UK-EU trade. The EU is the main market for the UK food companies and the industry claims that its current loss that resulted from Brexit is already big enough and cannot be compensated from trading with other markets.

For these reasons, the Working Group is calling on the UK to negotiate a mutual veterinary agreement with the EU in its recent report “Minimizing SPS Friction in the EU Trade”. Such an agreement would essentially ease the current problems in the food and feed trading between the EU and the UK.  According to the report, the exports system is characterised by archaic bureaucracy and it needs improvement to reduce time, errors and costs. In addition, the requirements for inspection and certification need review as well.

On 10th June, the cross-party UK Trade and Business Commission examined this topic at its evidence issue and heard about the industry’s experience in exporting animal products to the EU after Brexit. As the witnesses stressed, the key issue to address the current challenges is alignment in food standards, which should be a priority and driving all else. As they pointed out, as soon as divergence appears, checks at borders will only increase burdens for businesses. The industry has asked the Government to provide assurances to the EU about the UK food standards. It also showed that the simplification and automatisation of the export processes is equally crucial.

The EU and the UK are currently negotiating the issue of food standards, with Brussels seeking a commitment from Britain to remain aligned to the Union’s standards and the British government asking instead for recognition of the UK standards as equivalent to EU’s.  As the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said to Reuters, the UK seems to have a problem with any monitoring mechanism being enforced by the European Court of Justice. Ireland, from its side, suggests a middle ground with an independent monitoring system.

The exports and food standards issues that emerged right after the UK officially left the EU are yet another example that Brexit signified a new era where the two sides now have to work more closely than ever.

Brexit is not done and dusted. Rather, it has just begun, as the two parties have to figure out how to best implement the Brexit agreement to ensure as little disruption as possible in their economic relationship. Our experience tells us that the industry has a decisive role to play. Whitehouse has run successful campaigns on major legislative and regulatory dossiers discussed within the European institutions, its member states and the UK and ensured our clients continually contribute to high-profile debates at the EU and national levels.

The post-Brexit food standards challenge shows that now is the best time for the food companies to put forward their interests, staying up to date on the policy and regulatory developments and engaging with both the EU and the UK, which are seeking their opinion and expertise.

Food policy

Whitehouse Communications has focused on food and nutrition policy for over 20 years. Our team are experts in food law and regulation, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of food manufacturers, distributors and consumer organisations in the EU and the UK on how to shape the policies and regulations affecting their business. More information about our food and drink policy experience can be found here.