Following on from an announcement on Wednesday about grace periods for retail goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland (NI), the UK government has now confirmed that it is easing rules around the movement of plants and used agricultural machinery.
Under the rules of the NI Protocol, which came into effect on 1 January 2021, NI is in the EU single market for goods, with Britain effectively treated as a third country.
Checks and controls on produce moving from Britain to NI are the same as those for Britain to the rest of the EU.
For used agricultural machinery, this meant a plant health (phytosanitary) certificate was required to accompany each used machine. Each certificate, issued by authorities in Britain, verifies that the machine is free of soil and costs around £200 (not including the cost of thoroughly cleaning the machine).
The need for a certificate has been dropped in one of a number of unilateral announcements regarding the NI Protocol by the UK government this week.
In the case of used agricultural machinery, it should still be cleaned “to limit the amount of soil and plant debris” (a requirement that existed pre-2021), but “it can still be moved if small amounts of soil remain,” states UK government guidance.
For plants and plant-based products, under the new rules from 1 January 2021, they must be free from soil. The UK government has decided to amend this, and bulbs or vegetables from Britain can now move to NI even if they still have soil attached.
In addition, plants that have been grown in soil can be moved, provided they are from an authorised business in Britain.
According to the UK government, these arrangements for plants and machinery are temporary and designed to address specific practical issues.
“We will continue to work closely with the EU on how we can develop appropriate, risk-based arrangements for the long-term,” the government guidance adds.
On Wednesday, the UK government also confirmed that it is extending the so-called grace period for retail goods to 1 October 2021. This grace period, which effectively means retailers can move animal and plant-based products from Britain to NI without the need for official certification to accompany each item, was due to end on 1 April 2021.
In the meantime, the UK government is working on a new Digital Assistance Scheme to support the movement of agri-food goods.
Briefing the Stormont Agriculture Committee on Thursday, NI chief vet, Robert Huey outlined the “huge pressure” his staff are under trying to ensure compliance with existing rules, never mind the raft of new inspections that would have come at the end of the grace period.
“We achieved, miraculously, 40% of what we should have been doing last week,” he told MLAs.