The UK Government is finally planning to introduce new checks on food imports coming into the UK from this October, with new checks under its Border Target Operating Model set to be phased in over the following year.
The failure of the Government to introduce post-Brexit checks on EU imports, which have repeatedly been delayed while UK exporters have faced burdensome checks, has long been a source of anger within the pig sector, particularly given the threat posed by African swine fever (ASF) in Europe.
In collaboration with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, the Government has now published its plan to strengthen our borders against biosecurity threats and illegal imports, which it said aimed to ‘realise the ambition of the 2025 Border Strategy to create the most effective border in the world’.
The draft Target Operating Model proposes implementation of controls through three major milestones:
- October 31, 2023 – The introduction of health certification on imports of medium risk animal products, plants, plant products and high risk food (and feed) of non-animal origin from the EU.
- January 31, 2024 – The introduction of documentary and risk-based identity and physical checks on medium risk animal products, plants, plant products and high risk food (and feed) of non-animal origin from the EU. At this point Imports of Sanitary and Phytosanitary goods from the rest of the world will begin to benefit from the new risk based model.
- October 31, 2024 – Safety and Security declarations for EU imports will come into force from 31 October 2024. Alongside this, we will introduce a reduced dataset for imports and use of the UK Single Trade Window will remove duplication where possible across different pre-arrival datasets.
Following numerous previous delays, the Government said it was its ‘firm intention to proceed with the first milestone on October 2023 31, and businesses should work with their supply chains to prepare for this change now.
The TOM also outlines that new checks and controls will be introduced for Irish goods moving from Ireland directly to Great Britain. In accordance with the Windsor Framework, Northern Ireland businesses will retain unfettered access to their most important market in Great Britain, whether moving goods directly or indirectly through Irish ports.
The implementation dates for the second and third milestones at ports receiving Irish goods direct from Ireland on the west coast will be clarified in the final version of the TOM, to be published later this year.
The draft has been devised following extensive engagement with the Border Industry and businesses across the UK. A six-week engagement period will now take place, with the final Target Operating Model to be published later this year.
The border transformation is backed by over a £1 billion investment across this spending review period, to improve how government systems and technology support the movement of goods and people across the border.
The proposals apply to imports from all countries. Highlighting the threat of diseases like ASF, the Government said the controls will ensure our environment is protected, deliver food that is safe to eat whilst maintaining security of supply for consumers, and disrupt criminal activity before it can harm our communities.
The proposed new model will prevent delays at the border through a reduction in the need for physical checks for many types of goods, and by ensuring that checks take place away from ports where this is needed to allow traffic to flow freely, it added. To limit the burden on businesses, the new proposed risk-based global model will use data and technology to simplify and streamline import trade processes.
Central to this proposed model is the new Single Trade Window, delivered from 2023 to be fully operational by 2027. This technology will streamline processes for traders, who will only need to submit information once and in one place.
The government will also test further simplified processes by piloting an ambitious programme of trusted trader assurance schemes.
Comment and reaction
Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, said: “The publication of our draft Border Target Operating Model is a huge step forward for the safety, security and efficiency of our borders. Our proposals strike a balance between giving consumers and businesses confidence while reducing the costs and friction for businesses, which in turn will help to grow the economy.”
Biosecurity Minister Lord Benyon said: “It is vital that we have strong border controls in place. Invasive diseases could cost our farms and businesses billions of pounds, threaten our food safety and break confidence in UK exports around the world. That is why we are working hand in glove with businesses to devise a strong system that works for the nation.”
NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson said: “This is long overdue but very welcome, nonetheless. After so many delays, the Government must now ensure the timetable does not slip any further.
“The Government’s failure to implement proper checks on imports coming into the country has been unacceptable and the lack of checks has clearly exposed the UK to a greater risk of a devastating African swine fever outbreak.
“The NPA has been pressing the Government to put this right and we are pleased that they have finally listened. We now look forward to seeing a new regime that is fit-for-purpose introduced without delay.”
British Veterinary Association President Malcolm Morley welcome the publication of the Government’s draft TOM. “Whilst we need to scrutinise the detail, in principle it is an acknowledgement of the vital role border controls play in protecting public health and UK biosecurity, rather than seeing controls as simply a barrier to trade that needs to be overcome,” he said.
“By having robust systems in place, the UK can minimise its exposure to diseases like Foot and Mouth Disease and African Swine Fever, which could have a devastating impact on the UK’s domestic animal population, and in turn our farming and agrifoods industries.
“As the Border Target Operating Model moves from draft to finalised protocol, it’s vital that the Government continues to engage with the veterinary profession to ensure the model is fit for purpose.”
Gavin Stedman, Port Health & Public Protection Director at London Port Health Authority said: “The establishment of a dynamic and flexible system will afford greater efficiency and transparency allowing us to be more responsive to demands, thus balancing biosecurity and trade needs at our borders.”