For the British food industry, there is going to be an increasingly cold winter coming in the New Year. Not just the seasonal bad weather but a whole series of problems that are all designed to make life more difficult and expensive for the industry.
For a start, the UK is finally due to introduce its checks at the border for imports of food and agricultural products from the EU. This has been delayed for years because the government was far too inefficient to introduce them, then realised how expensive and time-consuming they would be and then realised that those costs would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher inflation.
But the big worry is that the whole process will be so messy and complicated that thousands of small suppliers from the EU will just stop bothering to export to the UK, this is after all what happened when the EU introduced the checks on our exports in 2021, small UK exporters gave up the ghost and stopped exporting.
This is not just a case of a few specialist suppliers of Spanish smoked sausage deciding to sell elsewhere. Look at the Irish Republic. Its agricultural sector has been a huge supplier to the UK for hundreds of years. Milk, butter, cheese, bread, beef, pork, beer, cider, whiskey, you name it and the Irish provide it.
These exports are worth €5.5 billion a year to Ireland, and we are just about to make those exports more difficult and expensive, time-consuming and wasteful. One wrong form, one missed test, one unregistered vehicle and whole lorry loads of food will be rejected
To be fair the industry has had years to prepare for this, but Brexit has had another unexpected blow in store for the food industry – the Windsor Framework.
It was the deal negotiated by Rishi Sunak to try to fix some of the many problems left by Boris Johnson’s complete incompetence in negotiating a Brexit deal, the one that placed a border down the Irish Sea. One of the solutions was to label all food made in the UK which was destined for Northern Ireland with labels that say clearly “Not for EU”. To stop it being slipped across the border into the Republic and therefore the EU.
The problem is that all UK-produced food will have to bear the label from October next year. business says this is totally unnecessary, but the government seems to have stopped listening to business at all. Which means food for export to the EU, will have to be labelled differently, a fiddly and costly bother. While food exported to the rest of the world will be able to carry the “Not for EU” label, it hardly increases confidence in the UK’s food exports around the world. Many customers will doubtless ask “What is wrong with this food if it can’t be sold in the EU?”
The latest Trade Snapshot from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) found that British exports were down by 5.5%, year on year. The FDF reports “This trend could be compounded by the UK’s government proposals to make it mandatory to have ‘Not for EU’ on labels for products sold on the GB market and the damaging impact this will have on exports to the EU. SMEs who represent 97% of the UK’s food and drink manufacturers, will be the hardest hit on labelling costs.”
Another complete mess, another own goal, and another Brexit bonanza; for our competitors and rivals.
Happy New Year to the UK’s food and drink industry, Britain’s largest manufacturing industry, hobbled by its own government, once again.