UK importers of plant or animal origin goods are experiencing difficulties with the border controls that have now come into effect.

Last week, there were reports of the problems experienced by an Italian haulier - this week it is the representative organisation for Dutch hauliers that are complaining about the delays.

Until recently, Brexit had negligible impact on the logistics of importing from the EU because the UK decided to defer implementation several times because they were not ready.

This is in contrast to the EU where full border controls on imports from the UK were imposed from day one, 1 January 2021. The impact of that was severe as all consignments that were of animal or plant origin required a health certificate as well as customs documentation.

This compliance with Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) requirements had the effect of removing small micro businesses that exported small volumes to the EU while larger operators with a 20-tonne consignment were able to comply.

Impact most felt on small exporters

Now it is the other way round. Exporters of SPS controlled goods from the EU to the UK will be familiar with what is required though again small businesses may find that it isn’t worthwhile.

However, what the exporters have no control over is the checking procedure at place in UK ports and as this is an entirely new process after more than 30 years in a single market, it is taking time to become familiar with it - hence the delays.

It is likely that after a period, the checking process at UK ports will become more efficient and a smoother passage ensured for hauliers. In the meantime, the likely effect is that exporters in the EU will only be prepared to deliver to the UK if it is financially worth their while to absorb the additional cost and hassle of delivery. If the business is of marginal benefit and there are similar market options within the EU single market, then we can expect those to take priority.

SPS agreement

There is another solution that could come into play if the UK government decide that they would take the EU up on their offer of an SPS agreement that would remove the need for veterinary certification and SPS controls at either the UK or EU ports.

So far the UK government has rejected this but with the upcoming general election and predicted change of government, this could change.

The Labour Party who are well ahead in the polls are on record as accepting an SPS agreement, something which would be welcomed by both exporters and importers alike and would, at a stroke, remove most of the causes of delay.

If this happens, it may trigger a debate in the UK on the merits of closer alignment with the EU.

So far in the election campaign, both the main parties have avoided the topic entirely while the Liberal Democrat party who are traditionally the third party in UK politics, are enthusiastically pro EU but have no chance of leading the incoming government. Brexit may have disappeared from the news cycle in the UK but it continues to cast a long shadow over trade.