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On April 30, the second phase of Britain’s new post-Brexit border controls for food imports from the European Union began – three years after Britain left the bloc’s single market and eight years after it voted to leave the EU.

The first phase of Britain’s new Border Target Operating Model (BTOM), requiring additional certification, came into force on 31 January. The second phase, starting on April 30, will introduce physical checks for so-called “medium risk” animal products, plants, and plant products, such as chilled and frozen meat, fish, cheese, eggs, dairy products, and certain cut flowers and seeds.

Source: Institute of Export & International Trade 

After April 30, there will be new charges levied by the government on importers who bring goods through the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel. The government says the so-called common user charge will cover the costs of its new controls and systems.

Importers do not know what the frequency of physical checks will be and only found out the charges they would face on April 30.

The government says it will take a “pragmatic approach” to introducing the checks and does not expect significant disruption to imports.

Importers are also unclear over the role of the Sevington border control post some 20 miles inland from the port of Dover.

Also, traders do not have access to an up-to-date list of private control posts and their charging rates.

While Britain’s major supermarkets and large EU suppliers have the financial firepower and resources to handle the new demands, smaller retailers and wholesalers have warned the checks and charges would hurt their businesses, restrict the variety and freshness of food in Britain and drive up prices.

That’s according to a report from United Nations sanctions monitors to a Security Council committee and seen by Reuters on Monday.

They are worried about disruption to supplies after 30 April and have been stocking up on goods as much as they can.

Many smaller importers share truck loads with other suppliers, so-called groupage, so they worry goods could be held up even if their own paperwork is in order.

The government says the new checks are essential to help prevent diseases and pests from entering Britain and will level the playing field for UK exporters.

Commenting on the next phase of BTOM, Marco Forgione, Director General at The Institute of Export and International Trade, said, “The proposals set out in the BTOM will establish the UK as world leading in the way in which our border and trade processes operate. The transformation to a digital first, risk-based approach to border management is much needed and will help address some of the commercial challenges that businesses have faced post-Brexit. The changes being introduced will meet the commitments set out in the Brexit agreement, world trade rules and will help make the UK’s border the most effective and efficient in the world. Turning customs and border operation into business enablers rather than blockers.

“The message from businesses has been clear, the way in which BTOM has been introduced has caused rather than solved problems. Five delays have certainly frustrated many businesses which have repeatedly started to prepare only for their preparations to have to be shelved.

“Even at this late stage there has been confused messages about how the new processes and checks will be carried out. Businesses on both sides of the Channel have been exasperated that the costs to traders of the new processes were only announced at the start of April and it was only at the end of last week the Government confirmed Sevington as the UK Government’s border control post. 

“Coupled with the new Common User Charge (CUC) fees that are being introduced, PHA and APHA fees and any potential commercial BCP charges, it may well be a challenging few months for anyone looking to import goods into the UK from the EU. 

“It is vital that businesses affected by these changes are aware of what is happening and how they need to prepare, but the detailed information that is needed to clarify processes has been lacking.

“With important details of BTOM being confirmed last-minute before checks are due to start, businesses have been confused about how to prepare. Confusion leads to price pressures, which can cause further issues with shrinkflation and the availability of goods. This uncertainty is especially damaging to the UK’s highly integrated food supply chain, where minutes and hours really matter.

“This creates an unmanageable scenario that impacts how businesses trade and, crucially, what is available on shelves with costs ultimately passed on to the consumer.”

Britain has repeatedly delayed imposing checks on EU imports. By contrast, the EU immediately enforced its rules, leading to port delays in 2021 and prompting some British exporters, such as cheese-makers and high-end beef farmers, to give up on selling to the bloc, at least initially.