Brexit: what has changed since January 1st?
On December 31st 2020, the transitional period during which the UK continued to be temporarily part of the single market ended. Since January 1st, it has been a third country for all intents and purposes. The new relationship between the UK and the EU is governed by the 'withdrawal agreement' of December 24th 2020 (full and summary text can be found here). To preserve the Republic of Ireland's open border, Northern Ireland remains in the single market. On the other hand, since January 1st, customs controls have been in place between the UK and Great Britain.
The agreement provides for the almost complete elimination of duties. Still, it should be remembered that, in addition to the application of VAT, trade to and from Britain is now subject to several non-tariff barriers. This is particularly relevant for Food & Beverage, where many products are subject to additional controls: e.g. labelling, rules of origin, health checks. These may involve longer times and extra costs.
A market that remains key
Is it worth continuing to trade food and drink between the UK and Europe? The numbers say yes. According to UK government figures, 26% of the UK's food comes from the European Union. In almost all product categories, the UK is a net importer. In particular, from around the world, it imports fruit and vegetables worth 11.5 billion pounds a year, meat worth 6.6 billion, cereals 4.2 billion. An exception is Beverage, with exports (7.9 billion pounds) exceeding imports (6 billion pounds).
The UK imports beef from Ireland (426 million pounds) and wine mainly from France (321 million pounds) in terms of commodities. A staple of British kitchens such as potatoes comes primarily from the Netherlands (155 million pounds) and Belgium (115 million pounds) while pork comes mainly from Denmark (171 million pounds). As for exports, the leading European destination markets for British products are mainly neighbouring Ireland (1,800 million pounds) followed by France (869 million) and the Netherlands (752 million).
What you need to know (and do)
So how do you proceed if you want to continue - or start - importing and exporting food products to the UK?
· Register as an economic operator. If you do not already have one, the first step is to apply for an EORI number (Economic Operator Registration & Identification). Since Northern Ireland is separate from Great Britain for customs purposes, a different EORI may be required to trade with Great Britain.
· Consider whether to use an agent. As mentioned, the agreement of December 24th does not (generally) provide for duties, but introduces non-tariff barriers, such as the filling in of documents that were previously not required. Especially for complex goods such as agri-foodstuffs, it may be preferable to use a customs agent to fill in the statements.
· Establish an office in the country. If the volume of products warrants it, it may be a good idea for European companies to establish a UK office to overcome the growing differences in trade legislation. The British government is advising its exporters to open an EU office.
· 'Vivisect' the product. Duty exemption applies reciprocally only to products with European or British origin. If your products contain ingredients of non-EU (or vice versa non-UK) origin, you may be required to pay proportional duties on these ingredients.
· Refer to institutional actors. Many EU member states have implemented programmes to help their companies trade with the UK, either directly or through export support agencies, e.g. ITA/ICE in Italy. Institutional support can become the solution to many "one-stop-shop" problems.
Importing to the UK
The section of the UK government's official Brexit Portal dedicated to imports of goods to the UK:
Exporting from the UK
The section of the UK government's official Brexit Portal dedicated to the export of goods from the UK:
Standards and regulations
Site maintained by the UK Food Standards Agency summarising rules and regulations for the import/export of food and feed with the UK:
Through a simple questionnaire, the UK government's official Brexit website guides you to identify the specific regulations applicable to your situation:
Visas from the continent
European Commission portal summarising all the main information and documentation on the agreement and the trade rules. Available in all official languages of the Union:
For Italian operators
Website of the Customs and Monopolies Agency summarising the requirements of the new regime for trading with the UK: