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Food at risk from poor customs deal

UK food supplies could be put at risk if Brexit results in more complex border controls.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned that the choice and availability of affordable, quality products for consumers would be compromised without additional agreements and investment to supplement a customs deal.

The warning was made in a new report in which the BRC sets out the practical challenges and considerations the UK Government faces in delivering as frictionless trade as possible with the EU.

It welcomed the acknowledgement in the government’s recent position paper of the need for a strong customs agreement, however the BRC claimed that two vital considerations have yet to be mentioned. Firstly, the significant investment required in the UK’s ports, roads and infrastructure to get systems ready for Brexit day and thereafter. Secondly, the suite of new agreements supplementing customs that are necessary to side-step additional red tape at ports and docks and prevent delays to goods.

It said that whilst transitional arrangements may help to alleviate some of the challenges, it would be crucial for the UK to develop robust systems for customs and border controls that secure the UK’s trading position for the future.

The UK’s food supply is particularly vulnerable to disruptions in cross-border trade with almost 80% of the food imported by grocery retailers coming from the EU compared with just 12% of non-food imports, according to BRC data.

Trade in food with the Republic of Ireland is especially important with the UK responsible for 42% of Irish exports worth £4.1bn.

“A strong deal on customs is absolutely essential to deliver a fair Brexit for consumers,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC.

“Whilst the Government has acknowledged the need to avoid a cliff-edge after Brexit day, a customs union in itself won’t solve the problem of delays at ports. So to ensure supply chains are not disrupted and goods continue to reach the shelves, agreements on security, transit, haulage, drivers, VAT and other checks will be required to get systems ready for March 2019.”