The Brexit border checks set to impact UK supply chains

By Peak Editorial Team on January 31, 2024 - 5 Minute Read

The new Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) policy means all plant and animal food imports must undergo veterinary checks from January 2024. The UK government has claimed the policy will create a “world-class new digital border”, reducing the risk of importing plant and animal diseases. But others have raised concerns that the policy will introduce additional red tape, delays and push up (already inflationary) food prices.

From 00:01 on Wednesday 31 January 2024, the UK government will implement the first phase of its new Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) policy. The new post-Brexit policy will impose new sanitary and phytosanitary controls on food and plant imports from the EU.

Under the policy, all plant and animal products imported from the EU will be categorized as low, medium or high-risk. Items categorized as medium and high risk, such as meat, dairy products and the majority of plants, will be subject to inspections conducted by plant health inspectors or veterinarians.

The additional checks introduced in January are the first of three phases of new importer requirements expected to impact UK supply chains in 2024. The BTOM policy is expected to introduce physical checks in April and additional security and safety declarations from October.

The policy was delayed for a fifth time in August 2024, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson saying the delay was the result of the UK government listening “to the views of the industry”. The UK government has claimed the policy will create a “world-class new digital border” and “ensure the smooth flow of goods and maintain strong security and biosecurity controls”.

Risks to perishable goods

Despite the UK government’s reassurances, some have expressed concerns about the policy’s impact on perishable goods. Speaking to the Financial Times, Karin Goodburn, Director-general of the Chilled Food Association, said it remained unclear how the policy would be applied. They warned that additional checks could put perishable goods, which have short shelf lives, at-risk.

In a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with members of the SPS Certification Working Group (who represent 30 trade organizations responsible for more than £100bn of UK food trade), Goodburn warned, “British food businesses producing, for example desserts, mayonnaise, sauces, baked goods, will have insufficient supply to continue to produce these and other foods using them.”

Valentine’s Day delays

The Fresh Produce Consortium has also issued a warning, stating that import controls could result in a £200 million increase in the cost of fruit and vegetable imports, a surge that would ultimately be transferred to consumers. And concern about the policy extends beyond foods to other perishables, like flowers (just in time for Valentine’s Day).

In response to these worries, Downing Street aimed to offer reassurance. A spokeswoman from Number 10 mentioned, “I don’t think people should be worried; I’m sure people will be able to provide gifts to their loved ones on Valentine’s Day in the way that we always see.” When questioned about the availability of roses, she added, “I’m sure people will be receiving bouquets of flowers on Valentine’s Day this year.”

Meat importers will struggle to meet new requirements 

The International Meat Trade Association (IMTA) raised critical questions about the BTOM, seeking details on 24-hour support for traders, considerations in EU certifier capacity assessments, and guidance for companies unable to pre-notify imports one working day in advance.

IMTA deems the requirement for pre-notifying meat imports from the EU as unworkable, citing various challenges faced by members. The association urged the Government to clarify its approach before 30 April, emphasizing the need for a pragmatic and educational strategy to ensure a smooth transition and maintain a level playing field for businesses serving the UK consumer.

Additional £330m cost to businesses per annum

An additional £330 million per annum estimate for the costs associated with the new BTOM came from Lucy Neville-Rolfe, a minister of state in the Cabinet Office. This information was conveyed in a letter obtained by Sky News addressed to Stella Creasy, a Labour MP who chairs the Labour Movement for Europe. 

In discussing the expenses related to the phased implementation of BTOM starting January 2024, Baroness Neville-Rolfe emphasized that the actual impact would be contingent on how businesses adapt their models and supply chains to accommodate the new control regimes.

Increasing food price inflation

Food price inflation remains a primary concern for UK supply chains and consumers, with food price inflation reaching 6.7% in December (down from 7.7% in November). Some worry the BTOM policy risks adding to inflationary pressures on food prices. Even the UK government has acknowledged the policy will add 0.2% to food prices over three years.

Uncertainty: the bigger picture

This new policy is just one of the headwinds supply chains have faced over the past few years. Whether it’s Brexit, the impacts of the pandemic or concerns about the impact of global conflict, supply chain leaders are facing a new normal, one where the only certainty is uncertainty. 

But supply chain leaders are finding new ways to tackle supply chain uncertainty with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). Learn how companies like Speedy and B&M are using AI to break free from spreadsheet cells, reduce excess stock tied up in inventory and meet consumer demand using the links below.

AI for Inventory

Find out how leaders are tackling their supply chain challenges using AI.

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