EU/UK border controls introduced

Monday, 29 January 2024

This week heralds the much delayed introduction of checks at the border for goods imported to the UK from the EU.

The Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) will seek to mirror the controls the EU implemented immediately following the UK’s departure from the EU on  January 1, 2021. From this date, sanitary certificates for meat and dairy and phytosanitary certificates for plant products were required for all UK exports to the EU. Physical inspections were also introduced at EU borders.

The introduction of health certificates for entry into the UK was originally scheduled for April 2021, with physical checks following in June 2021, but these timelines were quickly revised due to lack of readiness at the border. Subsequently, the risk of rising prices at a time when UK consumers were already facing rapidly rising food costs has been a factor in repeated delays.

The checks are required under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules that state countries should apply consistent rules with trading partners at the border. EU exporters should not have an unfair advantage compared to other trading partners, who already face checks at border. They also help ensure plant, animal, and human health by ensuring biosecurity at borders.

It is understood that the period from January to April 2024 will be used as a ‘bedding in’ period, with warnings and advice given rather than goods being turned away. However, April will see the introduction of physical checks and a tightening of the rules.

If the experience of UK exporters after leaving the EU is anything to go by, the introduction of BTOM will see significant disruption, delays and add costs to goods entering the UK. In the period following the introduction of the EU rules, trade dropped significantly by more than 40%. Even after the initial teething problems of incorrect paperwork, lengthy delays and perishable loads discarded, many smaller UK exporters who were unable to spread the cost of the certification, inspections and delays over an entire shipment stopped exporting altogether.

The measures are broadly welcomed by UK meat and dairy producers, who feel the playing field is finally being levelled with their EU counterparts. However, there are always winners and losers. Whilst some EU produce will become less competitive due to the increase in costs, the ability for UK producers to take advantage of this is limited. For instance, imported fruit and vegetables will face increased costs but with a lack of domestic labour supply, will not necessarily create opportunity to displace these goods. Likewise, lack of capacity in meat and dairy sector processing may also limit opportunity to displace imports.


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Sarah Baker

Head of Economics - Analysis

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