Earlier this month, the UK Government announced a delay to the application date for the start of new import controls for products coming into Great Britain from the EU.
Import controls had initially been pushed back to 1 October 2021. This further delay extends the period of application by 3 months meaning that full customs declarations and controls will be introduced on 1 January 2022. However, new controls on safety and security declarations will now not be required until 1 July 2022.
It must be emphasised that this delay applies to the controls on import documentation. The physical inspection of food products and loads, and export documentation such as Export Health Certificates has already been pushed back from 1 January 2022 to 1 July 2022. More specifically, the revised timetable will take effect as follows:
Changes to take effect on 1 January 2022
- full customs declarations and controls; and
- pre-notification of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) goods (extended from 1 October 2021).
Changes to take effect on 1 July 2022
- the new requirements for Export Health Certificates (extended from 1 October 2021);
- Phytosanitary Certificates and physical checks on SPS goods at Border Control Posts (extended from 1 January 2022); and
- safety and Security declarations on imports (extended from 1 January 2022).
The timeframe for new rules on product labelling has not changed as that already allowed a generous transition period, with producers able to continue to use an EU, GB or NI address for products sold in GB until 30 September 2022. With effect from 1 October 2022, however, pre-packaged foods sold in GB will have to include a GB address for the food business operator (FBO) or, if that FBO is not based in GB, the name and address of the importer. For more commentary on the legal basis and scope of labelling requirements, please refer to our earlier blog here.
Exports to the EU from Britain have been subject to controls since 1 January 2020, but the government decided to opt for a phased approach on EU imports to give hauliers and business more time to adapt. The rationale cited by the UK Government for this further delay is to allow food and drink businesses time to focus on COVID-19 recovery measures and it was considered that introducing new import requirements at such a delicate phase for the sector would be an undue burden.
This announcement may be welcome news to UK importers of EU food products. EU markets represent over 25% of all UK food imports and for food business operators that rely upon imported products or ingredients from the EU, there is a strong push for a gradual and phased introduction of regulatory changes. Indeed, the UK supermarket chain, Marks and Spencer in an open letter to suppliers (and first reported in The Times), argued that unless matters are simplified, there is a "real danger of disruption and delay at the EU to GB border that will lead to significant food waste across the sector, reductions in range and availability, and inflationary pressures".
However, the announcement has been widely criticised by industry representatives who perceive that the delay further exacerbates the uneven playing field between EU versus GB producers. In short, the delay creates one way traffic whereby GB producers exporting into the EU are subject to rigorous regulatory requirements whereas EU exporters into GB can benefit from the less restrictive regulatory procedures due to the ongoing delay to the application of import controls.