The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has described the UK government’s decision to allow imports from the EU to circumvent border checks until the autumn as a blow for many UK producers, and an own goal in terms of the UK’s negotiating position over improvements that would help UK exporters.

While thorough checks have been in place for UK food exports to the EU since January 1, 2021, equivalent checks on food products imported from the EU were due to be introduced from April 1 following a transition period to allow importers to adjust to the UK’s departure from the EU Single Market.

However, the UK government announced on March 11 that pre-notification requirements for products of animal origin, certain animal by-products and high-risk food, not of animal origin, would not be required until October 1, 2021.

Export health certificate requirements for meat and dairy products and certain animal by-products will come into force on the same date, while a range of other requirements have been delayed until 2022.

'An uneven playing field'

Responding to the announcement, FUW president Glyn Roberts said:

Our borders are currently operating like valves that make it extremely difficult and costly for us to export to the EU, due to all the paperwork and checks at EU borders, but it’s extremely easy for those in the EU to import into the UK because the UK government has waived the need for equivalent checks at our own borders.

"This means we have an uneven playing field that greatly favours EU businesses, and now the UK government has extended this advantage by at least six months."

Roberts said farmers and many processors were extremely angry that the UK government had failed to prepare properly for its own hard-Brexit policy, and was now extending deadlines to make up for its failings in a way which would disadvantage many Welsh businesses and favour many EU businesses.

"Meanwhile, the latest figures show that UK food exports to the EU fell by 64% in January due to non-tariff barriers at EU borders and the EU fully implementing border checks from day one."

The ‘soft touch’ approach

Roberts said that the UK government’s extension of the ‘soft touch’ approach also undermined its negotiating hand in discussions with the EU over reducing the burden of non-tariff barriers for Welsh and UK exporters.

There is now much less of an incentive for the EU to quickly reach agreement with the UK on easing the flow of products across the EU-UK border, as the UK government has effectively thrown the towel in for another six months.

Roberts said he fully appreciated that for some UK businesses the extension brought advantages, but highlighted that it was the UK government’s decision to opt for a hard-Brexit and therefore the UK government’s duty to prepare for the outcome of that decision.

"We should not be in a situation where we are limping from extension to extension because of a lack of planning and foresight by the UK government, while UK businesses are suffering unfair competition as a result," he concluded.