GB post – Brexit sanitary checks on EU goods: what are they, and will businesses be prepared?

Author: Greg Gowans

In little more than a week, some sanitary checks will apply to EU and EEA plant and animal products entering Great Britain, with further requirements due to come into force in April and October. The checks have nonetheless been delayed on numerous occasions, and it remains to be seen just how prepared businesses and the UK authorities are.

Given that the checks are just days away, and none of the previous delays have been announced at such short notice, it seems safe to say now that the sanitary inspections are indeed actually going to happen.

Businesses that did not heed advice to prepare for the checks will thus need to get up to speed to avoid delays or disruptions to shipments being sent to Great Britain.

Moreover, the possibility for supply chain disruption as a result of the checks is something that shippers will also have to take into account.

To address both these issues, today’s CargoON blog spells out the requirements of the incoming checks, and judges the level of preparedness for the changes based on the opinions of industry experts and organisational bodies.

What are the checks?

On 29 August 2023, the Government outlined in its final Border Target Operating Model it would introduce a “risk-based approach” to SPS-checks for food, animal and plant products. 

The plan involves checks on EU imports being gradually rolled out in 2024.

Checks that will apply from January 31st 2024

The first raft of checks are due to come into effect on the 31st of January 2024. From this date on, health certification will be required for imports of medium risk animal products, plants, plant products, and high risk food and feed of non animal origin from the EU and EEA. 

At the same time, pre-notification requirements will be removed for low risk plant and plant products from the EU and EEA.

Milk, as well as dairy products containing raw milk, fall into the medium risk animal product category. The same is true of eggs and products containing chilled or frozen eggs. In addition to this, numerous meat fish and animal protein products are on the medium risk list. 

Live animals, eggs, and germinal products, including hatching eggs, are considered high risk. The full animal products list can be found here.

As for medium risk plant products, the list is composed of various types of flowers, seeds and plant parts.

To find the risk category for a specific commodity being imported into the UK, the UK Government has instructed businesses to use this excel file to search for a commodity code or browse the list of commodities.

What are the documentation requirements as of January 31st?

The UK Government states that importers and import agents must use the IPAFFS system to notify authorities in Great Britain before the following goods arrive from EU and non-EU countries:

  • live animals
  • germinal products
  • animal by-products (ABP)
  • high-risk food and feed not of animal origin (HRFNAO)
  • products of animal origin (POAO)
  • composite food products
  • plants and plant products

This is true irrespective of whether the items are considered to be of low, medium or high risk.

Low BTOM risk category consignments must come with a commercial document from the supplier. However, medium and risk high risk category products shall need additional documentation. Such items must have a health certificate issued by the competent authority in the country where the goods originated from.

As the UK Government explains, businesses are responsible for correct classification of goods and recording of the origin of goods. Businesses have also been warned that Incorrect commodity codes, or errors with the recording of origin in customs declarations, may mean that the wrong amount of tax or duty being charged.

Checks that will apply from April 30th 2024

In the spring, more changes will apply. According to the UK Government’s Border Target Operating Model, as of April 30th 2024, documentary and risk-based identity and physical checks will apply to medium risk animal products, plants and plant products, as well as high risk food and feed of non-animal origin from the EU. 

Moreover, existing inspections of high risk plants/plant products from the EU will move from destination to Border Control Posts (BCPs).

As you can see from the map here, the BCPs are based in seaports and airports across the UK. Most of the BCPs appear to be for products of non-animal origin, with Port of Grimsby and Immingham being one of those for animal products.

An official UK Government leaflet claims that the BCPs are designed to handle high volumes of imported SPS goods and offer extended opening hours. The leaflet adds that staff will be working shifts on site to “carry out reliable checks which minimise friction on traffic flow”. In addition, it is stated that BCPs “can process multiple vehicles at the same time with ample space to remove or inspect products”.

It is nonetheless worth noting that the introduction and operation of the BCPs will entail extra costs for businesses. These costs come in the shape of a ‘Common User Charge’ that will apply to consignments that enter GB via Government-run BCPs in England and Wales, and potentially Scotland in the future. Additionally, each private BCP will charge user fees. As for how much the fees will be, the UK Government says that “more information will be available on this shortly”.

On the flip side, the UK Government maintains that it will also begin to simplify imports from non-EU countries. Examples of this include the removal of health certification and routine checks on low risk animal products, plants, plant products from non-EU countries, as well as a reduction in physical and identity check levels on medium-risk animal products from non-EU countries.

Checks that will apply from October 31st 2024

The last raft of changes apply from October 31st 2024, when there will be a requirement for Safety and Security declarations for imports into Great Britain from the EU or from other territories where the existing waiver applies.

On top of this, the plan is for there to be a reduced dataset for imports, while the UK Single Trade Window scheme will remove duplication where possible across different pre-arrival datasets such as pre-lodged customs declarations.

Are businesses prepared for the changes?

During a recent webinar for business, only 10% of the 250 attendees who were asked about their preparedness for the changes said they were “definitely not prepared”. The majority stated they considered themselves to be prepared or well prepared. However, the small sample size naturally means it is difficult to draw conclusions.

One trade body that has been particularly vocal about the potential for problems with the checks is the Dutch association of wholesalers in floricultural products.

In a statement on its website published at the turn of the year, the organisation warned:

“Despite the VGB’s call for the UK to postpone the inspections on 5 types of flowers, there is no sign that this will actually happen. The UK recently officially indicated to the NVWA [Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority] that it will maintain the phyto-obligation, and therefore additional inspections, for all medium-risk products as of January 31. This also includes the now well-known 5 types of cut flowers . VGB regrets this development and doubts the usefulness and necessity, but the UK is no longer part of the internal market and makes its own decisions. We therefore emphatically call on members to prepare well for these inspections.”

Posting on X last autumn following the the UK’s Border Target Operating model announcement, Dr Anna Jerzewska, a respected customs expert, referred to how the frequent delays to post-Brexit border checks by the UK Government had been influencing the plans and behaviour of many businesses.

“Look, it’s not that we can’t see why there are delays. It’s just if you’re a business that’s been constantly in between get-ready and stand-down modes (wasting precious time and resources), you may be a bit reluctant to start preparing for yet another first milestone. This has a knock-on effect on other areas. Like the recently announced delay of CDS migration or NCTS5 migration, the future introduction of the Single Trade Window etc. Leading to a general ambivalence in the private sector to Gov deadlines and calls to get ready. One of the common issues raised by various UKG Departments is the difficulty in getting businesses engaged and the lack of pro-activity. And that’s a fair point. But equally, this ain’t helping.”

Jerzewska added:

“As a consultant working closely with UK businesses, I really don’t know what to say when I’m being asked “how likely is it that this time it’s for real” or “why should we start preparing”. Part of the implementation effort with any policy or change is getting businesses on board. And yes, following the previous version of TOM there was an effort to consult the industry on the effect of the proposed changes. But most of the problems raised by the industry will not be resolved by the time the new deadline arrives. At least not by themselves. So the question remains, if/how can UKG and the private sector work together in the next few months to make this work? Cause, spoiler alert, this will not be done by January 2024, nor by October 2024.”

More recently, UK Cold Chain Federation, in its new year policy briefing, warned that the checks due before the end of this month “could see some disruption in the availability of some food and horticultural lines”.

One area of particular concern is groupage, which proved to be problematic when checks were introduced on UK exports to the European Union post-Brexit. It was often the case that mistakes with one shipment resulted in a whole truckload of goods being delayed.

Although the UK system is different, a DEFRA spokesperson did admit during a recent webinar that if a consignment was selected for inspection after April, then all of the items part of that groupage would have to go to the BCP.

That said, the authorities have indicated that they will be taking a “pragmatic approach” to the checks, which suggests that there may be a light touch to begin with..

“By the end of January, when we implement this, there will be a pragmatic approach in terms of there will be checks that are undertaken, but they will only be DIP tests and we will be liaising very closely with the exporting countries to inform them of any issues that we do find,” said a DEFRA spokesperson, speaking at a webinar on import controls regarding plant products.