Brexit’s roadblocks to “frictionless trade”

Posted: 25 September 2023 | | No comments yet

Rupert Ashby outlines how delaying implementation of the Border Target Operating Model has advantages and disadvantages for the sector.

food imports

New Food has recently been reporting on the numerous pushbacks that the UK Government has made regarding food and beverage imports from the EU.

Back in August 2023, the UK Government announced that it would be postponing food import checks for the fifth time and will now be put in motion in January 2024 with the Government claiming its decision gave businesses “more time to prepare after engagement with industry”.

This is something that roused mixed opinions from the sector, with some agreeing that the pushbacks were beneficial, including Shane Brennan, Executive of the Cold Chain Federation (CCF), who reasoned: “These Brexit checks will fuel food price inflation whenever they are brought in and so the longer they are held off the better”.

The long road of Brexit: A shifting regulatory reality

However, now, Rupert Ashby, Chief Executive of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF), has told New Food that while there are advantages to delaying implementation of the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM), there are also disadvantages that should be considered.

“The underlying issue is that when we departed from the EU, the promise of frictionless trade with Europe was made, yet the current reality falls vastly short of that commitment and the continuous postponement of the regulations is causing our members unnecessary frustration and costs,” explained Ashby.

Stabilising post-Brexit trade relations

Ashby went on to note that, come its implementation, he believes the BTOM will be a “a positive step towards stabilising post-Brexit trade relations”. In fact, he highlighted that the “frozen food industry is looking forward to capitalising on more efficient trade relationships”.

Food import checks are something that the BFFF believes will ensure the environment is “better protected and food is delivered that is safe to eat, whilst maintaining security of supply for consumers”. However, Ashby went on to reason that the eventual implementation of the BTOM “will introduce an entire new layer of complexity, delays, and increased costs for our members and trade partners, upon whom we depend significantly for our food supply.

“Moreover, it may deter some EU exporters from servicing the UK market, favouring markets with fewer trade barriers,” continued Ashby.

The solution lies in agreements

Turning his mind to January 2024, Ashby noted that, going forward, it is essential that there is a “smooth functionality of this critical aspect of our economy”.

“We have consistently emphasised a straightforward solution for restoring the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of our two-way food trade, without needing to rejoin the EU. This solution lies in the establishment of a Common Veterinary Agreement, an arrangement that would formalise the UK’s commitment to the food standards it currently upholds for trade with the EU” concluded Ashby.

While the postponements have provided businesses with time to prepare and adapt, as Ashby points out, the continuous postponements have also introduced uncertainty and costs, underscoring the need for a comprehensive and stable trade framework.

As we approach the new implementation date in January 2024, it becomes increasingly crucial for the UK Government to ensure the safety and quality of imported food while facilitating smoother trade relationships. The decisions made in this critical period could have far-reaching implications particularly for the food sector.


Rupert Ashby

Rupert Ashby is Chief Executive of the British Frozen Food Federation, the UK’s frozen food trade association, with over 250 members comprising Producers, Wholesalers, Importers, Exporters, Brokers, Retailers and related Associate businesses.

He joined the BFFF from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) where he had been the director of membership and regions since 2012.

His early career was spent at the Co-operative Group running several of their farming businesses before moving to their Manchester headquarters as a marketing project manager. His farming experience included growing vining peas, broccoli, cauliflowers and chipping potatoes for the frozen food industry.

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