The increasing prospects of a hard Brexit are raising fears among food and drink importers and exporters – which make up the lion’s share of traffic through ports such as Dover – that trade could be gridlocked if border controls and tariffs on traded goods are introduced with the EU.
These concerns have been repeatedly raised by organisations ranging from the Food and Drink Federation and the Freight Transport Association to others representing UK and EU wine and spirits producers.
Two million vehicles cross the channel into the UK via Dover every year and it is estimated that half of them contain food, claimed Professor Alan Braithwaite, a senior adviser to BearingPoint subsidiary LCP Consulting. That is an average of 5,500 large trucks a day, and on peak days this could rise to 8,000 vehicles, he said.
1,400 movements a day
On top of this, the Republic of Ireland sees significant volumes moving across its borders – 9Mt a year (4.9Mt in and 4.1Mt out) – which equates to approximately 1,400 movements a day, he added.
“Ireland is critical to trade, representing up to 70% of the tonnage and 50% of the value traded by the UK with the EU in some of the food sub-segments,” said Braithwaite.
“The UK’s food trade back into mainland Europe is out of balance with the inbound flows, but is nonetheless substantial. Trade statistics show the total value of trade into mainland Europe is 10.2bn [£9.14bn] and the tonnage is approximately 7.3M, equating to roughly 1,100 vehicles per day. It is a two-way challenge for infrastructure and capacity,” he said.
“If the vehicles passing the Dover Straits are held for any length of time as part of increased border inspections, the implications for shippers are many – including reduced shelf-life, waste, increased stocks and cost, as well as the risk of unreliability – all of which can severely disrupt the supply chain and ultimately impact the consumer.”
Delays could be made much worse
Delays could be made much worse if food safety checks on food, such as meat, are introduced at borders, John Averns, port health and public protection director at the City of London Corporation and member of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), has warned.
“We share John Averns’ fear that a cliff-edge Brexit could see UK consumers suffer as food imports grind to a halt and prices rise,” said Tony Lewis, CIEH head of policy.
“Maintaining high levels of food safety standards across the UK following Brexit is imperative, and without a deal on this with the EU, additional checks will simply have to happen to protect British consumers.”