By Kerry Maxwell, communications manager, British Poultry Council
“The Border” is back at the centre of Brexit Twitter discourse, at least it is on my feed. Between the freedom of movement of people and the freedom of movement of goods, tangible progress in these two areas remains limited and the direction of travel for the British poultry meat industry is hardly transparent. That’s the funny thing about Brexit; we all might be ‘so done’ with it but it is by no means done with us.
At this point, asymmetry of UK-EU trade dynamics verges dangerously on the edge of being normalised. Food import checks have been postponed four times over the past two years, symbolic not only of the unlevel playing field that continues to penalise British poultry meat exporters but adding to inflating production costs as a reminder that Brexit is Unfinished Business – as though Government haven’t had seven years since the referendum and three years of the TCA to prepare to mitigate trade friction anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, we all want to avoid the stress onus paperwork and additional checks pose on food supply; exporting sectors and industries like our own have suffered the pains of Brexit – those so-called ‘teething problems’ – since day one. However the ongoing impact of unreciprocated checks on one side of the Channel and not the other poses just as big a problem when it comes to accessible and affordable food. The current system we have been wrestling with, that some industries are yet to feel the full weight of, is eroding British business viability, adding to soaring production costs and risks undercutting domestic production with imports, in turn threatening to push up the price of food in the UK in the midst of a cost of living crisis. If ensuring affordable and accessible food is the priority, kicking the can down the road won’t serve anyone. Levelling the playing field across industries, sectors and entire nations must take precedence.
The irony of the controls conundrum is whilst headlines are telling us that EU food producers are not ready for UK import checks, they are the ones that have been enjoying a competitive advantage from the get-go. British poultry meat businesses navigating red tape, facing stringent certification, and absorbing costs from 1 January 2021 were the ones blamed for a ‘lack of preparedness.’ Additional administration cost industry £60 million in 2021, and another £50 million in 2022. Essentially the cost of not having fair, reciprocated checks is greater than the burdens that come with them – particularly in the absence of an SPS Agreement under the TCA, in which those burdens could be addressed, and checks potentially scrapped altogether.