Gardening Express' Chris Bonnett expresses industry concerns about Government changes to plant inspections at Border Control Points
So, in the name of biosecurity, it's under three months to go until the UK horticultural industry moves from having imports checked at Points of Destination to having them checked at Border Control Posts.
As we already import from outside the EU, we're already versed in this additional step of the process, yet are of course concerned about the resources to execute this system for the significant volumes of product coming in from the EU.
I have therefore been working hard behind the scenes to obtain clarification from various stakeholders as to the answers the industry wants to these big burning questions and fears around the new regime!
One thing, as with any new system, there will be learnings and potential teething issues whilst all get used to it. I know there is considerable fear in the industry about how this is all going to work and how much it will cost! So this synopsis is to perhaps give some comfort to others in our industry based on what I've been finding out.
Perhaps Rebecca Pow and Nicola Spence CBE will be able to get a co-ordinated official announcement out on these fear factors to settle the industry if what I'm hearing is incorrect, but at the moment, I'm hopeful there's a lot less to fear than first thought.
If what I'm hearing is true, then i'm actually thinking the movement of goods and trade will be easier in many regards....... so here's the detail you're all wanting on 1) the costs, 2) the practicalities – from a tech standpoint and using IPAFFs, get your suppliers up to speed on requirements now and use a 24/7 agent – we’ve done the maths, and the economics don’t stand up to doing this in house!!!
1) Common User Charge rate is estimated to be in the region of £20 to £43. I've also been told it will be £45 by someone in the fruit and veg sector and it will be charged by commodity/invoice line. This charge is what I resent the most, as if I buy a trolley shelf of say 20 shrubs from a supplier at £5 each, this potentially adds a further £1 to £2.25 of cost to each of them. So...when you buy 10 cultivars of Hydrangea, don’t have each listed on dockets as a single line item, but group them to ensure this fee is spread between them all – else face it being levied multiple times. My request to those in charge is that this charge should be per consignment, regardless of number of cultivars or varieties, as they will largely travel under the one commodity code. Let’s hope this latter is what happens by commodity code for the entire consignment – I’ve pushed back and await this answer.
2) Goods being stopped at BCPs – I’m informed this will be at the rate of 5% to 100% of ‘high risk’ product based on intel. This is contrary to fears I’m hearing that 100% everything will be stopped. Perhaps if you’re the first to bring in Lavenders one week from a grower, you’ll get stopped and checked, but then, providing they are clean, the authorities will then be waving the rest of consignments through from this supplier straight to your premises with occasional spot checks. They’ll be areas where Olives for example will be 100% checked if not far from a Xylella zone etc or perhaps Poinsettia if the grower is known to have had a Bemisia problem at some point, or any other products known to have issues from time to time, but all of this will be Intel based. This can only be good news as you’ll be able to process goods immediately on receipt and not wait around for inspectors to come as is the current process with PODs. I think we can live with 5% checks or even 100% if we keep devastating diseases out of the UK.
Now, I hear you crying, what about loose loads?
Growers will need to have samples of each product presented at the back doors. If the inspectors think they want to check more, I’ve been told for practicalities purposes, they’ll allow movement to your premises for unload and then come and check goods much the same way as they do for PODs now. This for my business represents no change from the way they already deal with rest of world cargo, and isn’t an issue. Keep in mind, they’ll only being doing this if they’ve a genuine concern – which you’ll share with them and not want to be involved in – so this is only a good thing. If they’ve no intel or worries, they won’t be turning up.
We are of course all responsible to maintain our own inspection regimes and obligations to immediately report anything we are not happy with on arrival to APHA – this is a joint responsibility for us as an industry that don’t want quarantine pests and diseases entering the UK. Trust me – you do not want an outbreak of a problem on your premises which could be a potential showstopper for your business, and are far better to report anything suspicious or you’re unsure about as an interception. As with any system there could be times where something slips through the net – let’s work together with APHA for the greater good for UK horticulture here.
I hope my above findings add some comfort to all in the industry - we shouldn't rest on our laurels however, but continue to challenge and ask the difficult questions until full official clarity is obtained. If we're not happy once these announcements do come out officially then we'll give them hell - there's plenty of farmers and grower who'll happily mobilise and take a muck spreader to Whitehall as the French do - which really wouldn't make good PR for the government in an election year.
For me, barring the potentially exorbitant charges which amount to a stealth tax on industry and ultimately consumers (none of us are against reasonable costs but line by line doubling the cost price of products is a no way!), then the practicalities above, at least from my stand point aren't sounding too bad. They could in fact assist and speed up the current processing time for our goods in department. Let's press for official clarity now, before the eleventh hour. I don't want the harbour master at Harwich getting upset with angry Dutch lorry drivers wheeling hundreds of trolleys of plants into the sea making their own protest if the wheels fall off the process of BCPs, all through ill and late communicated technicalities.