Future of plant imports: urgent government action needed

With just nine weeks until the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) changes the Horticultural Trades Association warns of risks to the future of UK plant trade.

Truck driving on road

From the 30th of April the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) changes and the UK will see high-risk plant checks move to Border Control Posts (BCPs).

Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) Chairman James Barnes points to a multitude of problems for the tree and plant trade with the government BTOM proposals: “The consequences present a dramatic risk to the breadth of UK horticulture businesses (the majority of which are SMEs), jobs, biosecurity, environmental target delivery, and the choice available to and pockets of the UK’s 30 million gardeners. The risks are exacerbated by coming in April, in the middle of the peak season.”

In a letter sent earlier this week directly to the Secretary of State for Defra, Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP, Mr Barnes said:

“There is an extraordinary amount of detail missing on how BCPs will work and operate when handling high-risk plants; we have set these out months, in some cases years ago. The capacity and capability of BCPs to handle the checking of plant products is drastically deficient. From lacking the space and equipment to unload mature loads, such as trees, to having just a few curtain-sided checking bays, BCPs are not able to handle the checking of our sector’s goods at the volume and speed required for perishable products and ensure the free flow of imports.”

Worryingly for horticulture businesses, the costs of using BCPs are yet to be known, giving no certainty and possibly prohibiting plant trade due to spiralling costs – in turn, British gardeners may not be able to purchase their favourite summer varieties.

The HTA has called for the Secretary of State to act urgently to:

  • Sustain the current well-functioning Point of Destination (PoD) system, which sees experts checking goods securely at sites until BCPs and easements are fully tested, functioning, and accessible to businesses in our sector. Any future changes must be managed carefully with the sector and not in peak season.
  • Announce the Common User Charge (CuC) and engage directly with the sector on the multitude of outstanding detail and questions. It must not be the case that the sector is paying more for checks that cannot happen or deliver damaged, delayed and dead consignments. The proposed approach places the cost of all the risks and untested plans on our sector.
  • Urgently meet the industry to discuss this issue. We seek Defra to match the approach of UK horticulture in ensuring a collaborative, open, expert, detailed, constructive and meaningful engagement between all stakeholders involved in cross-border plant trade to ensure we can deliver UK border changes in a way that sustains the competitiveness and availability of our sector and others involved.
  • A workable border model is essential to over 90% of the UK’s tree and plant growers that import plant products for operation and propagation purposes. These all fall within the high-risk category and should be subject to checks. Imports were valued at £753 million in 2022.