The announcement of the final Border Target Operating Model was accompanied by news of a further delay to its implementation, dismaying industry groups. Michael Barker reports
Ever since Britain’s departure from the EU was signalled in that seismic referendum of 23 June 2016, the nation’s poultry exporters have wondered what the new trading environment with their biggest partner would look like.
Seven years on, on 29 August the UK Government announced yet another delay to the implementation of its Border Target Operating Model (BTOM), the system of controls to protect the country against biosecurity threats. It insisted the final BTOM would help deliver its 2025 Border Strategy to create “the most effective border in the world”, using smarter data and technology to create a risk-based approach that will reduce paperwork and duplication. It also stated the new approach would save businesses around £520 million per year compared to the original import model that would have been introduced in 2022.
So what does the final BTOM entail, and how have the poultry and farming sectors reacted to news of a further delay that sees EU sellers into this country still unencumbered by border checks while UK exporters are saddled with them in the opposite direction?
According to the new timetable, health certification on imports of medium-risk animal products, plants, plant products and high-risk food and feed of non-animal origin from the EU will now take place from 31 January 2024. The Government said it had agreed to the latest three-month delay after “listening to the views of industry” and to give stakeholders additional time to prepare for the new checks. It also noted that the estimated impact of the BTOM on food inflation is expected to be less than 0.2% across three years.
The introduction of documentary and risk-based identity and physical checks on those same products will now take place on 30 April 2024, alongside imports of SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) goods from the rest of the world switching to the new risk-based model. On 31 October 2024, safety and security declarations for EU imports will come into force.
The full BTOM is detailed in a hefty 136-page report, the key features of which explain how the new model should minimise trader burdens and maintain border security while remaining aligned with international standards, and how it is tackling SPS controls. When it comes to safety and security, the model is designed to reduce data requirements down from the current 37-field dataset to 20 mandatory, eight conditional and nine optional fields; make it easier to submit safety and security data through the UK Single Trade Window; improve the use of data by the UK Government to remove duplication; and remove safety and security requirements for certain outbound freeport goods leaving Britain.
For SPS, the flagship policy is the adoption of a new global risk-based approach that applies to live animals, products of animal origin and animal by-products, among other things, which will now be categorised as high, medium or low risk with controls “appropriately weighted against the risks posed both by the commodity and country of origin”. Simplified and digitised health certificates will be brought in, while the Government says it will pilot schemes with industry where authorised importers of plants, plant products and some animal products may be eligible for facilitations to make importing easier.
On poultry specifically, the strategy states that under certain conditions and requirements, some live animals could receive identity and physical checks at their destination instead. It is foreseen that this will apply to ‘zoo animals’ that are headed to an approved listed site and consignments of day-old chicks and hatching eggs where these are headed to an approved site under an expanded Poultry Health Scheme model. Details of the specific criteria, which may include requirements around site conditions and access to data, are set to be published in due course.
‘Hugely frustrating for producers’
While the publication of the final BTOM has brought relief, many sectors of farming, including poultry, reacted with dismay to news of a further delay. NFU president Minette Batters expressed frustration at the fact that British farmers are continuing to face one-sided export controls while EU counterparts gain unfettered access to the UK market. “This is not just an issue for competitiveness, with British farmers faced with additional costs and paperwork, but also for our nation’s biosecurity,” she said. “It’s hugely frustrating for many producers that the government has yet again delayed the implementation of vital checks on goods entering from the EU. Proportionate and effective controls are necessary if we are to prevent outbreaks of pests and diseases that threaten human, animal and plant health, the safety, quality and biosecurity of our food products and the confidence of our trading partners.”
While many of the NFU’s specific concerns related to plant health material and phytosanitary checks, the union is also seeking clarity of how the opening hours of border control posts are aligned with ‘just in time’ supply chains, and ensuring there are sufficiently resourced operations, including Animal Plant Health Agency inspection capacity, to avoid delays.
The British Poultry Council said the fifth round of delays to border controls poses food safety and biosecurity risks, undercuts domestic production and amplifies the food inflation challenge. Chief executive Richard Griffiths said: “Citing inflation defers rather than confronts the consequences of the commercial realities of Brexit. It side-steps round the fact that a large portion of cost-of-production pressures stem from the lack of clarity surrounding unreciprocated controls and regulatory timelines. So much for wanting more British food on plates and striving for self-sufficiency.”
Griffiths cited ongoing frustration from the poultry industry towards the Government’s post-Brexit planning, noting that exporters had just seven days to prepare for the conditions of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement signed on Christmas Eve 2020, which importers and other industries are yet to feel the full weight of. There is also lingering soreness from the UK poultry industry after it was criticised by its own government for a “lack of preparedness” from 1 January 2021, according to the BPC.
“Concerns that importers and other businesses have expressed are what BPC members have endured since 1 January 2021,” Griffiths continued. “Additional administration, like OV-signed export health certificates, have cost industry £55 million a year since leaving the single market. EU exporters, on the other hand, have paid £0 in certification costs. Delaying the implementation of food import controls for the fifth time in two years means the EU continue to enjoy a competitive advantage. By no means do we ‘want’ checks, per se. What we ‘want’ is to fix the problems putting pressure on our supply chains. That starts by equalising trade between importers and exporters.”
Griffiths described the Government’s reference to inflation as a “get-out-of-jail-free card”, adding that if Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to honour commitments to the food industry that they will have what they need to fulfil their role in society, he must level the playing field on controls as a first, vital step.
“The cost of not having reciprocal checks is greater than the burdens that come with them.” Griffiths concluded. “To preserve the viability of British poultry meat businesses, we must make relations with our largest and most important trading partner as efficient as possible by establishing fair and reciprocated checks to equalise trade between importers and exporters – particularly in the absence of an SPS Agreement, in which these burdens could be addressed, and checks simplified.”