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Valentine Flower Imports Face Price Surge Amid New Inspection Requirements

In the lead-up to Valentine's Day and Mothering Sunday, as well as the impending full activation of Border Control Posts (BCP) on 30 April, UK importers of flowers and plants are bracing for increased costs due to heightened inspection requirements.

As we approach 7 February 2024, the importation of flowers and plants into the UK is marred by significant apprehensions concerning the costs, capacity, and clarity of communication in relation to the UK Government's shift towards Border Control Posts (BCP), a mere 12 weeks away.

The Dutch horticultural trade association, VGB, represented by Tim Rozendaal, has voiced ongoing concerns regarding the UK Government's strategy towards BCPs, particularly about the capacity for inspecting woody plants, which are subject to 100% inspections.

Despite raising these "major concerns" with UK officials, there appears to be "no real progress." The UK Government has pledged to address inspections in a "pragmatic way," the specifics of which remain vague. VGB is urging the government to reduce the frequency of inspections and allow a significant number of goods to bypass checks, especially anticipating that the system could buckle under the pressure during peak seasons.

VGB points out that achieving sufficient capacity is contingent upon the full implementation of the Border Target Operating Model, which includes the Authorised Operator Status (AOS). The deadline for AOS applications is set for 8 March, with a live pilot expected to commence in the second quarter of 2024.

Rozendaal has remarked on the complexity and potential financial burden of BCPs, although the exact costs are yet to be ascertained. Despite pre-existing contracts between suppliers and UK purchasers, the operational regime at Harwich, now extended to 24-hour inspections, is unlikely to keep up with the demand, potentially imposing additional costs of £60 per truck.

As of 31 January, Rozendaal reported no significant inspection-related delays, yet highlighted the added costs and labor involved in facilitating inspections. The variability in exporters' operations makes it difficult to estimate a uniform cost increase.

Despite these operational hurdles, Rozendaal remains optimistic about avoiding major disruptions or shortages during critical sales periods such as Valentine's Day and Mothering Sunday. The first year under the new regulations has heightened concerns over documentation errors.

Direct imports from Africa or South America by UK retailers circumvent the 8% import tax trade tariff imposed since Brexit.

The BTOM has introduced new border controls and requirements for plants and plant products, categorizing certain cut flowers as 'medium risk' and necessitating a phytosanitary certificate from 31 January 2024.

This regulatory change has prompted garden centres to express concerns over additional costs and potential delays, particularly in anticipation of Valentine's Day. Both Longacres and Hartley's Nurseries have shared their experiences, noting the increased complexity and costs of importing cut flowers.

The Dutch export value of cut flowers saw a 5% decrease in 2023, totalling 4.2 billion euros, with a similar downturn in plant exports. The total export figure stood at 6.8 billion euros, marking a reduction of 286 million euros. VGB's Matthijs Mesken has underscored the continued challenges posed by Brexit and instability in key supply countries.

Amidst this backdrop, Nigel Jenney, Chief Executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium recently commented, "The industry is at a critical juncture, facing unprecedented challenges with the new regulations. It's essential that the government and industry work closely to ensure a smooth transition and mitigate the impact on the supply chain." This sentiment echoes the broader concerns within the sector.

The political climate in Europe, including the UK's upcoming elections and the selection of a new European Parliament, may introduce further instability. At VGB's recent AGM, journalist Tim De Wit provided a critical examination of British politics and the unexpected outcomes of Brexit, as detailed in his book "Wankel Kingdom," likening the situation to parachuting without first checking for a parachute.


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