In a startling turn of events, the UK government has reclassified a significant portion of EU fresh produce as medium risk, a decision that has sent shockwaves through the industry. This critical move, made without a formal public announcement, has been met with grave concern by the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC).
Nigel Jenney, FPC's Chief Executive, voiced his alarm, asserting, "This verdict delivers a severe blow to the industry and will have widespread ramifications."
His words underscore the profound impact of this unexpected policy shift, set to be implemented on 31 October 2024.
The industry is now bracing for the fallout of this decision.
The government's proposed solutions, including the establishment of a Border Control Point (BCP) at Sevington and the introduction of additional Common User Charge fees, are seen as inadequate for the specialized needs of the perishable sector, known for its just-in-time operations.
The undisclosed costs linked to these measures are feared to threaten the survival of many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The opacity surrounding the reasons for the reclassification of these products has heightened the urgency for the industry to receive timely information and to seek avenues for improvement.
Given that 65% of all EU imports depend on groupage, the implications of this decision are expected to be extensive. Vehicles transporting consignments that do not require inspection could still face significant delays at BCPs.
"For years, we have proposed viable solutions that are only now receiving government consideration," Jenney lamented. "It is imperative to establish cost-effective inspection solutions for SMEs, groupage consignments, and fast-track approval for responsible companies to conduct their own official inspections."
The industry is calling for the simultaneous implementation of industry-managed control points with approval for official inspections – Authorised Operator Status (AOS) – on the designated "go live" date. This strategy is vital for simplifying and reducing the complexity and cost of trade with the UK, which is key to averting food inflation and the risk of empty shelves.
This development represents a significant setback for the UK's fresh produce industry as it confronts the challenges posed by the new EU risk categorization and strives to maintain its operational efficiency and economic viability in the face of these daunting changes.
Click here to see BTOM risk categorization for plants and plant products from the EU