Brexit red tape is making a pig’s ear of pork exports

Footage of overzealous European inspection officials confiscating ham sandwiches from British lorry drivers is the mere tip of the huge red-tape iceberg, those involved in the export of pig meat products to the EU have claimed.

And highlighting the degree to which UK pork processors are experiencing significant issues in dealing with post-Brexit port and border control issues, the pig sector has warned that the issue has already brought part of the industry to a complete standstill – risking knock-on impacts on farms.

Processor members of the National Pig Association (NPA) have reported that excessive bureaucracy associated with new paperwork requirements are causing delays at Dover, Calais and other ports.

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And they claim that being a perishable product, these delays are making |UK pork shipments unattractive to buyers in the EU, forcing processors to reject orders and cancel future orders.

“Despite the trade deal agreed between the EU and UK just before Christmas, the UK’s formal departure from the EU Customs Union and Single Market was always going to mean additional checks, new labeling and certification requirements and delays at ports,” said NPA chief executive Dr Zoe Davies.

But with UK export volumes currently well below normal levels, she claimed that officials at ports in the UK, France, Ireland and the Netherlands were taking an overly stringent approach to assessing paperwork, which often took up to nine hours to prepare.

“One load was caught at Calais for 20 hours undergoing vet checks and then rejected upon finally reaching its destination in Germany because of the delay.”

She said that another processor reported that when sending product to the Netherlands, each Export Health Certificate (EHC) required 12 stamps for the English, Dutch and French versions required in duplicate.

“Therefore, for a 15 tonne load, the vet had to stamp paperwork 72 times,” she said, adding that with no electronic option available all EHCs have to be in hard copy.

She said that the new rules also meant that pallets had to be offloaded and broken apart to check the boxes in the middle, adding yet more time to the process.

The shortage of vets to conduct inspections and issue certificates was another major factor she claimed.

“But there is a political element, too,” said Davies. “Why are 30% of all UK consignments to the EU being checked when New Zealand only has 1%?”

The delays had resulted in processors cancelling some shipments – with the cull sow trade particularly hard.

“Processors are currently wary of sending shipments out in case they are rejected due to deterioration of product following severe delays. The concern is that the situation is only going to get worse as export volumes increase over the coming weeks, putting more pressure on a system that is already buckling,” warned Davies.

“The government does not appear to think there is a problem. The clear message we are receiving from our processors is that there is” and she called for concerted action on both sides to speed the processes.