Additional checks on EU imports due to be enforced later this year could inflate food prices and cause more empty supermarket shelves, business leaders have warned.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has raised concerns that port authorities are ill-equipped to deal with extra checks on some animal, plant and food products from the EU due to be phased in from October as a result of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.
Industry chiefs have reportedly warned that new fees on goods entering Britain from the EU will also increase the cost of importing each lorry-load of produce by “hundreds of pounds”.
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The additional costs could jeopardise the future of some small businesses, it is claimed.
The BRC fears the extra layer of red tape will cause disruption at Dover and other ports, resulting in shoppers facing new shortages of fruit and vegetables thanks to late deliveries. Further checks could also boost food price inflation if businesses pass on the extra costs to shoppers.
Speaking to The Independent, the BRC’s director of food and sustainability, Andrew Opie, cautioned that “the main impact [of checks] could be on availability [of goods] if there is disruption at the ports”.
“In the autumn we increase imports of fresh produce from Europe that has a short shelf life, so it is imperative the system works well from day one to avoid impact on customers,” he said.
Supermarkets are calling on the Government to ensure ports receive as much help as possible in preparing for the additional checks. Mr Opie added that the main priority “must be getting European supply chains and UK government checks ready for October, to avoid disruption at our ports”.
Businesses are braced for another hit after being warned by the Government that new checks on imports from the EU will add around £400m a year in extra costs. Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said greater bureaucracy and more fees could threaten the future of some small, specialist importers.
He said: “What we’ll see is a decline in choice, because some of the smaller firms importing specialist products – bacon, ham, cheeses – that part of the business will fall by the wayside. Some will have to change their business model to survive.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said moves to limit disruption from the checks “will transform the UK’s border controls”.
They said: “It will create a new world-class system to provide protection from security and biosecurity threats, while preventing delays at the border through a reduction in the need for physical checks, and by ensuring that checks take place away from ports where this is needed, to allow traffic to flow freely.”
The spokesperson continued: “We are now in a period of engagement with industry, so we can hear their views on our initial proposals and work with them to explore the costs of implementing the new model.”