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A shortage of veterinary surgeons in the UK could provide a serious obstacle to exports of live animals and animal products to the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
A whole new level of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks could come into force, and some of these would also apply to fresh produce exports.
Delegates to an FTA conference in London last week were told that a no-deal Brexit would mean the UK moving to the list of third-party countries, leaving EU border officials with little choice but to apply inspections and checks.
Sarah Laoudi, European policy manager at the FTA, said: “UK exporters [of live animals and animal products] will need to secure SPS certificates which will need to be signed by an official vet – but there’s a shortage of these in the UK.
“The UK government is trying to find ways round this, such as allowing vets to sign for a period of time rather than for a specific consignment.”
She said exporters would need to develop a checklist to make sure their consignments would be able to cross borders.
“The first step is to secure the export health certificate, and to make sure your haulier has a copy of this, because it will be required at borders,” she explained.
A further complication of SPS regulations is likely to be found with consignments loaded on pallets, because, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, they will have to be on pallets that are ISPM 15 compliant – wood pallets have been found to transmit diseases and insects and have to be treated to prevent this.
FTA manager of international transport and trade procedures John Lucy said: “This means wooden pallets moving from the UK to the EU in a no-deal scenario would be subject to checks – and there are not enough ISPM15-compliant pallets to handle the existing volume of trade.
“However, on the import side, the UK government has said there would be no enforcement measures, and currently we don’t expect the EU checks on this to be systematic. But for products that are normally subject to SPS inspections, we would strongly recommend using ISP15-compliant pallets.”
He said the UK government was seeking an EU-wide waiver, a position which has been supported by the European Federation of Wooden Pallet and Packaging Manufacturers (FEFPEB), which has advised: “If the UK will be leaving the EU without a deal, it does not change the plant health risk between the EU and UK, and FEFPEB therefore strongly advocates maintaining the current situation, no ISPM 15 requirements for flows between EU and UK.”
The advisory added that the industry would need a “phase-in period to increase and adapt the heat treatment [for pallets] capacity of the industry” and estimated that this could take a year for those in general circulation and two years for pallet pools.
Mr Lucy said there was yet another complication: the fact that there is no requirement for traders and transport providers to actually declare that they are carrying pallets across borders.
“This could become quite a difficult issue,” he said.