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Import checks to be phased in next year - but NPA warns this could lead to unequal treatment

16th Jun 2020 / By Alistair Driver

The Government is to phase in its controls on imports from the start of next year when the Transition Period ends.

ShipBut while the move will give importers more time to adapt, it means there will be different systems in place in the UK and EU, after the EU said it would implement full checks on UK exports at the start of 2021. The NPA has warned this could result in unequal treatment of UK pork producers,

In February, Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove said full import controls were ‘necessary’ from the start of 2021 to keep UK borders ‘safe and secure’ and to collect the appropriate taxes.

But the Government has now opted for a phased introduction in ‘recognition of the impact of coronavirus on businesses’ ability to prepare’.

The announcement means companies will be able to defer customs forms and tariff payments for six months, with some physical checks delayed to July.

Mr Gove has formally notified the EU that the UK will neither accept nor seek any extension to the Transition Period, which means from January 1, 2021, the UK will have the autonomy to introduce its own approach to goods imported to GB from the EU.

The new border controls will be introduced in three stages up until July 1, 2021. The stages are:

  • From January 2021: Traders importing standard goods, covering everything from clothes to electronics, will need to prepare for basic customs requirements, such as keeping sufficient records of imported goods, and will have up to six months to complete customs declarations. While tariffs will need to be paid on all imports, payments can be deferred until the customs declaration has been made. There will be checks on controlled goods like alcohol and tobacco. Businesses will also need to consider how they account for VAT on imported goods. There will also be physical checks at the point of destination or other approved premises on all high risk live animals and plants.
  • From April 2021: All products of animal origin (POAO) – for example meat, pet food, honey, milk or egg products – and all regulated plants and plant products will also require pre-notification and the relevant health documentation.
  • From July 2021: Traders moving all goods will have to make declarations at the point of importation and pay relevant tariffs. Full Safety and Security declarations will be required, while for SPS commodities there will be an increase in physical checks and the taking of samples: checks for animals, plants and their products will now take place at GB Border Control Posts.

Mr Gove also announced a new £50million support package will boost the capacity of the customs intermediary sector providing businesses with further support ahead of the new processes taking effect in July 2021.

Additionally, the Government has committed to building new border facilities in GB for carrying out required checks, such as customs compliance, transit, and Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks, as well as providing targeted support to ports to build new infrastructure. Where there is no space at ports for new infrastructure, the Government will build new inland sites where these checks and other activities will take place.

Mr Gove said: “At the end of this year we will control our own laws and borders which is why we are able to take the sovereign decision to introduce arrangements in a way that gives businesses impacted by coronavirus time to adjust.”

You can see more details here

NPA reaction

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “While the phasing in of import checks will help businesses that import goods from the EU to adapt at a very difficult time for the economy, we hope this is not setting a precedent.

“One of our key Brexit asks has always been equal treatment of exports and imports and we will have a situation, for six months, where there are less stringent checks on imports than will be faced by UK exporters. We could be once again facing a situation where Government are allowing major difficulty in UK pork being exported to the EU.”

NPA senior policy adviser Ed Barker said the announcement highlighted the need for the Government to secure a ‘light FTA’ and tariff agreement with the EU by January 1.

“Otherwise it is going to be a very difficult choice – impose low tariffs, import lots of food and cause huge damage to your domestic farming sector OR maintain tariffs, including on EU imports, and face major prices rises for consumers,” he said.   

“Assuming, there is an agreement on tariffs, there is also the question of whether the tariff collection will be even. For EU imports of UK goods, duties will be demanded straight away as the EU is set up to do it, whereas, according to this announcement, UK importers can defer it, which will give EU producers a big advantage on day one.

“Similarly, there will be light touch inspection on EU imports, but this wont apply the other way.”

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