The business of EU Exit Trade is admittedly a treacherous landscape now that the EU Exit transition period has ended. If growers are to successfully navigate their way through these changes during a global pandemic, they must not be afraid to ask for advice. Rachel Anderson reports.
Those of us who consider paperwork to be a bad word will understand why my cavernous desk drawer is a place into which I throw any ominous-looking envelopes that fall through the letterbox. This drawer rarely gets emptied – and when it does there’s a mountainous pile of white letters towering in my office like a big, paper Yeti.
The truth is that I’m not alone. Paperwork makes many of us feel a little uneasy and overwhelmed. And currently, many growers who import and/or export plants are likely to be feeling this way now that the EU Exit transition period has ended. As ICL’s shipping consultant, Neil Horne, notes: “The documentation side of the EU Exit transition is causing a lot more work for everyone – the exporter, the importer, customs and excise staff… it’s a different ball game now really.”
Sally Cullimore, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA)’s policy manager, adds that the first few rocky weeks of 2021 saw around a quarter of freight lorries (from all business sectors, including horticulture) being turned back at both sides of the border because they didn’t have the right paperwork.
Neil points out that staff absences caused by the coronavirus pandemic have compounded these delays. “It’s caused a worldwide issue. Factories can’t manufacture products or ship goods out on time because of illnesses. Containers can’t be offloaded quickly enough and there’s a lack of availability of transport.”
Sally adds that Northern Ireland (NI) has been avalanched with trading difficulties that the HTA is heavily lobbying the government about at the moment. She explains: “As part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, NI is part of the EU Plant Health Area. This means that there are plants – including honeysuckle, oak and jasmine – that we cannot export to the EU (including NI) without going through a lengthy process of submitting a dossier for each species in question.”
Due to rules designed to prevent soil diseases from entering the EU, there is also now an issue surrounding the soil or ready-mixed compost in which the plants are grown. “We can ship out peat and coir, but we can’t ship out ready-mixed compost. It has to go through a certain procedure, and you have to be able to prove that it’s undergone this procedure.”
Conquering the paperwork mountain
If we are to successfully navigate our way through EU Exit Trade during a global pandemic, we are arguably going to have to boldly tackle the paperwork “beast” head on. Whilst the thought of this might be daunting, there is support available. Helpfully, the HTA has compiled a comprehensive list of steps – nine, in fact – that growers have to climb to get ready for EU Exit Trade. This can be found on https://hta.org.uk/news-current-issues/brexit.html.
Sally reminds those growers (who import and/or export plant material) who have not yet made preparations for Brexit to take the following basic steps as soon as possible:
- speak to their supplier
- register on PEACH (the plant import IT system)
- get a customs agent, or work out how they are going to make customs declarations
- register as a place of destination for plant health inspections
- get an EORI number
“It’s a very complicated process,” asserts Sally, who also strongly emphasises just how important it is that growers speak to their suppliers. “It’s all about talking to your supplier. They might have a customs agent in the UK who could help you through that. They might want you to authorise their customs agents to act on your behalf. They might even do the prenotifications for you.” She adds many Dutch suppliers are carrying out the import/export process on behalf of their UK customers, for example.
Another useful suggestion from Sally is for growers to carry out a “test run.” “Bring a few trollies over to see what happens. Try importing something that you don’t necessarily need urgently so that it doesn’t matter as much if something goes wrong. It’s just going to be a learning experience.”
Neil adds that growers who are engulfed with paperwork should first seek advice – such as from the HTA or their local chamber of commerce. “If you’ve got a problem, speak to people to help resolve it. The good news is that we are now a month into 2021 and so we have a few weeks’ valuable experience.” Certainly, we are all learning as we go along but with a bit of perseverance, we (and the plants we grow) will reach our destination.