EU agreement implementation, UK developing countries, Week in London column

Week in London: Delayed UK border controls to soon kick in, Uzbek GSP status, fisheries truce

The dreaded year 2022 is round the corner already for the UK border – EU exporters will need to be prepared. The UK continues to follow what the EU does – yet another example is Uzbekistan’s GSP status upgrade. And there is a form of truce on fishing licences with the French.

EU exporters face UK border control 2022 deadline – but are they ready?

The level of preparedness of exporters in EU member states to adapt to new bureaucratic procedures is likely to represent the biggest challenge of all when the UK finally activates border formalities for EU imports as from the start of next year.

This was the view expressed by industry experts at a session of the House of Commons International Trade Committee on Wednesday (3 November).

The deadlines for applying checks at borders for goods imported into the UK from the EU have been delayed twice since the start of this year, as the UK government sought to ensure that possible disruptions to food supplies were minimised when Brexit came into effect.

According to the current schedule, the requirement to pre-notify imports of agri-food products is not required until 1 January 2022, while the requirement for export health certificates to be delivered for products of animal origin has been pushed back as far as 1 July 2022.

Physical checks on imported goods will also not be imposed until 1 July.

British officials now insist that they will be ready to face the challenges of progressively imposing a hard border as from the start of next year – after admitting that they would not have been ready to impose such controls had they come into force from the start of this year.

UK exports, for their part, have been subject to full checks and procedures at EU border posts as from the start of this January.

But they fear that European exporters may be less well positioned to adapt to the new rules which are now coming in.

Some member states ‘better prepared than others’

“Some EU member states, such as Germany, are very advanced in their preparations, but others are rather further behind,” warned Robert Hardy, director of customs and borders advisor EORI Limited.

“I think the initial introduction of pre-notification as from 1 January is a good move, as it gets everyone used to the process.”

Sarah Laouadi, Head of International Policy at transport industry body Logistics UK, pointed out that 85% of the haulage companies that moved goods through the English Channel ports and Channel Tunnel were registered in the EU.

“Their level of readiness will be critical to the smooth introduction of these procedures,” she told the committee.

Exporters in European countries who trade exclusively with the EU would have to invest time and effort in the necessary bureaucratic adjustments solely for trade with the UK – and this has led to warnings that some businesses may opt out of trading with the UK altogether as from next year.

Operational details still missing

Laouadi also told MPs that there were as yet few operational details as to how the new border control posts would function.

“The operating hours of each border post, the exact agri-food products that each post will accept – these designations have not been agreed yet,” she said.

“And it is unclear how drivers will be notified that their goods have been selected for physical checks.”

Absence of export health certificates ‘creates data gap’

Movements of agri-food products into the UK will be traced using IPAFFS – the ‘Import of products, animals, food and feed system’ – which the UK authorities have already made operational for higher-risk imports such as live animals and seeds.

But James Russell, Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association, told the committee that compliance with IPAFFS declaration requirements could actually be made more difficult by the decision to wait a further six months before export health certificates were required for imports of products of animal origin.

“Some of the data that we require, such as species and product category, would have come from the EHC. We might now have a data management problem whereby the logistics operators can’t give us enough information about the products they are importing.

Russell commented: “As so often happens, when something is simplified it creates a problem somewhere else.”

UK grants ‘enhanced framework’ GSP status to Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has been added to the list of countries benefiting from the ‘enhanced framework’ under the UK’s Generalised System of Preferences, with effect from Monday (1 November).

The move means that UK tariffs on a wide range of imports from the Central Asian country have been reduced or abolished.

The move brings the UK into line with the EU, which offered Uzbekistan improved market access under the terms of its own GSP+ system earlier this year.

On leaving the EU customs union at the end of 2020, Britain initially copied and pasted the EU’s preferential tariff system in its entirety – albeit with a minor rebranding of the GSP+ system.

The latter offers zero-tariff access for most goods to certain low-income countries which meet ‘economic vulnerability’ criteria. These are by way of a ‘reward’ for compliance with a range of conditions relating to human and labour rights, the environment, and good governance.

Bolivia, Armenia, Cabo Verde, the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Mongolia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka are the other eight countries benefiting from higher-level GSP treatment in both the EU and the UK.

“The Secretary of State for International Trade is satisfied that the Republic of Uzbekistan meets the UK’s economic vulnerability criteria and that it has ratified and is effectively implementing the Schedule 2 conventions [on social, environmental and governance criteria]“, a DIT statement said.

Meanwhile, Armenia has been given notice that in light of its reclassification  by the World Bank as an upper-middle income country, it will be removed from the UK’s GSP scheme entirely as from 1 January 2022. The EU is planning to take the same action.

Uneasy truce on trade checks as UK-France fishing row persists

As predicted by Borderlex, the threat by the French government of major disruption to UK-EU trade earlier this week, as a consequence of the Franco-British spat over fishing rights, did not materialise.

But despite a meeting on Thursday (4 November) between the two countries’ top representatives – Lord David Frost and Clément Beaune – the issue remains unresolved.

France had threatened to step up border checks on goods coming from the UK as from Tuesday, in retaliation against the UK’s alleged slowness in granting licences to fish in UK territorial waters to French fishing vessels which had claimed historic rights to access these grounds.

But President Emmanuel Macron on Monday announced a postponement of this withdrawal of goodwill, pending fresh discussions between the two sides.

Goods have therefore continued to flow through Calais and other French Channel ports this week, to the relief of UK exporters.

However, the Frost-Beaune meeting on Thursday failed to deliver much in the way of a resolution to the core dispute over fishing rights.

“As foreshadowed, they discussed the range of difficulties arising from the application of the agreements between the UK and the EU,” said a statement issued by the UK government after the meeting. “Both sides set out their positions and concerns.”

The two ministers are due to hold a further meeting next week.

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