As much as 70% of UK exports into Europe’s largest port, the Port of Rotterdam, have been arriving with incorrect paperwork.

Tim Heddema, agricultural counsellor at the Dutch ‎Embassy in the United Kingdom, made the revelation to agricultural journalists from across Europe this afternoon (February 25).

Heddema was speaking as part of a panel event run by the European Network of Agricultural Journalists (ENAJ) discussing how Brexit has affected agricultural trade and policy in the UK and EU.

‘Errors were in almost every consignment from GB’

As the largest port in Europe, Rotterdam sees 441 million tonnes of cargo pass through its customs annually.

With the UK one of the Netherlands’ largest trading partners, much of that comes from Britain. In 2019, Dutch imports were worth more than £39 billion to the UK.

“So far most of our difficulties have arisen on the imports side – so goods coming in from Great Britain – and specifically, products of animal origin, coming in through our border control posts in the port of Rotterdam,” Heddema said.

“It will be no news to you all that there have been problems. The papers have reported fish and pigs heads ‘rotting in Rotterdam’ – probably a bit harsh.

“But the reality is in the first two months of the year, unfortunately, many of those consignments of veterinary products arrived with incorrect or sometimes even missing veterinary health certificates.

These would be incomplete, be the wrong model, not stamped in the right manner. These would contain incorrect inspection locations, notification numbers, amounts, weights, contradicting data, just to give a few examples.

“In the first week, such errors were in almost every consignment from Great Britain and now the percentage is still at 60-70%.

“This all created a huge backlog for our inspection centres and the food safety authority, which early on made the decision to prioritise all consignments from Great Britain trying to avoid congestion.

“They are now able to work through the backlog from the previous week on the weekends but in the course of each week of course delays stack up and are sometimes more than a delay.

“And this is just on our side because our feedback will inevitably lead to changes on the exporters’ side and even further delays.”

Changes on April 1

Heddema said there were concerns about how the second phase of the UK’s border operating model would affect the export of perishable goods from the country.

On April 1, the UK will require pre-notification and health certificates for all other plant and animal products imported into the country.

“Naturally, we have concerns. Especially when it comes to fresh produce being of a perishable nature and considering the scale of our exports in those,” he said.

Heddema estimated Dutch exports of cut flowers and plants would require around 250,000 SPS certificates per year with more than 350,000 consignments of food and vegetables exported annually each expected to require at least one certificate each.

“This will require a great effort from our inspection services,” he said.