On a recent episode of BBC Radio 4's Farming Today, Nigel Jenney, Chief Executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) voiced significant concerns following the UK government's decision to reclassify imported fresh produce from the EU from low to medium risk. This interview highlighted the complexities and uncertainties facing UK importers due to this change.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has stated that this reclassification is part of a phased approach to support businesses and ensure efficient trade between the EU and Great Britain. However, the specifics of the new classification, which will come into effect later in the year, remain unclear, causing confusion and concern among importers.
Jenney, representing the UK's fresh produce industry, expressed his apprehension about the ambiguity surrounding the change. "The uncertainty is not helping the industry," he told Farming Today. He elaborated on the industry's concerns, particularly regarding the substantial additional costs that will arise from the new requirements. These include various official documents, such as phytosanitary certificates, and inspections in both Europe and the UK.
A significant financial burden is also anticipated from the government's proposed common user charge, which Jenney described as a levy or tax on goods imported through key UK ports. Starting from the end of April, this charge could range from £22 to £43 per item, potentially costing small businesses over £1,000 per border crossing just for this charge alone.
Jenney criticised these costs as "simply extortion," emphasising the impact on both the industry and consumers. While he acknowledged the necessity of phytosanitary checks on food imports, particularly those consumed raw, he advocated for a more proportionate approach.
He suggested that the industry is capable of conducting these checks more effectively and efficiently, proposing the accreditation of responsible businesses to handle inspections to government standards, while under government oversight.
The interview on Farming Today brought to light the challenges and potential repercussions for UK businesses, especially those with international operations, in the face of these new import regulations.
Jenney stressed the importance of maintaining high biosecurity and phytosanitary standards without compromising the quality of fresh produce, calling for a management process that is as efficient and effective as possible.