Country-of-origin labelling (COOL), Geographical Indications (GI) and border controls post-Brexit were among issues covered in the Government’s 4 May response to the latest EFRA committee report on leaving the EU.
However, Dominic Watkins, partner, global regulatory compliance and investigations at DWF, told Food Manufacture: “Much of the document just repeats the same stock responses. We need a clear and detailed plan for the future so that the sector has certainty.
“We appear to be in a holding pattern. In a week where Michel Barnier [EU chief negotiator on Brexit] recognises that the Irish Border issue might derail the entire negotiation and the Cabinet appear unable to agree its position on customs to allow the negotiation to event take place, this response is unsurprisingly vague. The Government’s response promising that it is pursuing a bold and comprehensive economic partnership is not new, nor is the suggestion that they want the greatest possible tariff-free and frictionless trade. This is common sense, but easier said than done and increasingly appearing like a mythical unicorn, much described but never seen.”
Tackling industry fears of chaotic border controls after Brexit, the Government said its plans for a new electronic certification project was a key priority for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) from 2016-2020.
“Development of e-certification will reduce the time spent on the certification process for both Government and industry,” the response stated. “Further, it will enable DEFRA to meet the wider international trend of moving to digital by default, e-certification, for animal and animal products trade. We are working with industry to develop the new system so that it meets the requirements of our customers.
“We intend to roll the system out smoothly and iteratively, working with industry. We plan to develop, and implement, the building blocks of the new service in advance of our exit from the EU, which will create a more efficient process and allow trade to flow smoothly.
“The e-certs system developed for exports will be aligned with the imports service to provide businesses with a coherent trading process.”
COOL has come under the consumer spotlight in the past few years, as shoppers develop greater interest in supporting UK producers. In a positive vein, the Government’s response appeared to hint that it was open to working on UK-specific legislation post-Brexit that would safeguard the interests of domestic suppliers. “Whilst the Commission has tested some new proposals, they have so far resisted UK and some other Member State calls for mandatory COOL in these areas. Outside the EU, the UK will be able to pursue its own independent policy on country-of-origin labelling and other forms of labelling. The UK Government will take on board the Committee’s views when it comes to these matters.”
On GI, the Government repeated its desire for products to be able to apply for GI-equivalent status under domestic law and again stressed products with existing EU GI status would be able to hold on to this.
Reacting to this, Watkins said: “Many will be pleased that GIs are to be protected, but it remains to be seen how that integrates with the EU system. An equal number will be sceptical that a new IT scheme can be delivered and reduce border paperwork in time.
The Government moved to quell concerns about a lack of available non-British EU veterinary surgeons, stating: “Defra is working with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, British Veterinary Association, the Food Standards Agency and the devolved administrations, putting plans in place to secure future veterinary capacity in the UK, including contingency planning in the event of no deal with the EU. This is looking at a range of initiatives to strengthen retention of existing vets in the workforce, increase the supply of UK-qualified vets, and ensure processes are in place to secure non-UK veterinary resources.”
To view the Government’s full response, click here.