Retailers claim Britain’s fruit and veg supply will be endangered unless customs challenges are smoothed out – and quickly.
The fruit and vegetable shortages which were the hallmark of early 2017, will likely be a regular occurrence once Britain has left the EU, warns the trade group which represents UK retailers.
But a fresh produce scarcity will not be caused by the threat of inclement weather – as was the case over the Christmas period and into the early part of this year when heavy rain and snow hit much of Europe – but rather because of customs chaos at ports and border controls where heavy delays will likely impact quality and supply.
There could be a serious lack of courgettes, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, citrus and more from key European growing regions like Spain.
And generally there is serious risk of a much broader food availability crisis which affects perishable produce as well as other categories like meat and fish.
This stark warning comes from the British Retail Consortium’s latest report “A Customs Roadmap”, which claims the UK could be heading for a series of shortages unless UK-EU negotiations are disentangled with priority given to how produce will cross borders and efficiently reach UK soil.
The report sets out some of the practical challenges as well as the BRC’s recommendations on how they are addressed.
“Without a strong deal on customs, new procedures and rules on trades and goods could impact on the availability, costs and quality of the goods we all buy. It could also damage the retail industry,” says William Bain, BRC policy advisor Europe & International.
“A no-deal Brexit could see the number of customs declarations increase fivefold to 255 million a year.
“That’s why we need to make sure that we don’t fall, by accident, into a customs’ system with more red tape, more costs, more delays and more charges.”
For the smoothest customs deal, the BRC is urging for solid deals on security, haulage, transit, drivers and VAT, as well as investing in ports, roads, IT and other necessary customs infrastructure to make sure that UK ports are ready and capable of handling new checks and security procedures that may be required.
The report points out how Dover currently handles 10,000 freight movements a day between the UK and the continent and how it has no physical infrastructure for holding consignments pending customs clearance.
It also says how 79% of food imported by retailers is from Europe, which includes 21% of fruit and vegetables.
Fair Brexit for consumers
The aim of the BRC’s “Fair Brexit for Consumers Project”, is to make sure consumers do not notice any difference in the availability and choice of affordable and quality products when they make their purchases post-Brexit, according to Helen Dickinson OBE, BRC chief executive.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the sheer complicity and scale of some of the customs challenges,” she says.
“Whilst the Government has acknowledged the need to avoid a cliff-edge after Brexit day, a customs union in itself will not solve the problem of delays at ports.
“So to ensure supply chains are not disrupted and goods continue to reach the shelves, agreements on security, transit, haulage, drivers, VAT and other checks will be required to get systems ready for March 2019.”
She adds that the BRC wants to work with the Government to develop a system through a series of recommendations that will ensure a smooth transition and keep the UK’s retail industry serving customers and contributing to the country’s economy.
Click here to read the report in full and see more BRC recommendations to government.