Flower industry call for further grace period on post-Brexit border checks

Both the Dutch and UK flower industry express concerns regarding impending introduction of phytosanitary certificates on medium-risk products scheduled for 31 January 2024.

Dutch flower market - tulips in buckets
Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

As reported by Peter Forster for the Financial Times and Jack Simpson in his article for the Guardian highlighted the serious concerns regarding the new requirements for sending plant products to the UK from the end of January.

The new regime will require importers to provide health certificates for medium and high risk plant products from the 31st of January, followed by physical inspections planned for the 30th of April and then safety and security declarations from October the 31st. Flowers such as chrysanthemums, carnations and orchids are amongst those classed as medium risk so will need to be checked.

The concerns…

  • According to exporters, the industry isn’t ready and worryingly the post-Brexit border controls come into force ahead of critical high volume trading periods (Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mothering Sunday) when expectant delays at customs could result in substantial damages and losses.
  • Officers currently visit importers in situ after delivery which means that delicate plants can be expertly cared for whilst they await inspection. However, after April physical controls will take place on entry at port. Not only could that result in consignments being held for long periods of time, putting plant products at risk but it also means high risks for ‘complex’ plant products such as root balled trees and shrubs which require expert manoeuvring by skilled people and can’t just be dropped of at the border.
  • According to the VGB the new Import of products, animals, food and feed system (IPAFFS) is not fully functional. There are substantial delays on plant declarations due to lack of unique identifier codes.
  • More red tape comes with more costs. Forster reports that the UK government acknowledged that business will need to incur £330million in additional costs but that they “argued they are essential for maintaining UK biosecurity as well as creating a level playing field for British exporters who faced similar checks when exporting to the EU”. Simpson also made the valid point regarding the added costs of the new checks being pushed further down the supply chain as importers are unable to absorb the additional costs.
  • The Dutch Association of Wholesalers in Floricultural Products (VGB) highlighted the impact on the already critical shortage of delivery truck drivers. The association warned that even short delays for inspection will worsen the shortage of truck drivers.
  • The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has highlighted that steps required to import a plant, say a petunia from the Netherlands to the UK has increased from 19 to 59 post Brexit, adding concerns as to further delays with the onset of the new rules. Both articles echo concerns for small EU based businesses being unaware of the requirements and critical timelines, adding to potential delays across the board. There is also a risk that smaller companies such as these may just opt to stop trading causing UK-EU trade relationships to tumble further after Brexit.

Forster quotes James Barnes, the HTA chair who said “We think that the new border is a disaster waiting to happen. The fundamental issue is that the infrastructure isn’t in place to cope with the volume of trade that’s coming through.”

The VGB have suggested that the UK government push back on physical checks of plant imports until September 2025 to ensure industry readiness.