After five delays over the past three years, the UK Government has finally made an attempt to introduce physical checks on EU food exports entering the UK as part of its Border Target Operating Model.

As a Union, we have, on many occasions, raised serious concerns regarding the fact that our exports, such as Welsh lamb, have faced extremely costly border bureaucracy since we officially left the EU while food producers exporting from the EU to the UK have faced nothing of the sort.

Under these changes, food, animal and plant products which present a ‘medium risk’ to biosecurity and health will now be subject to physical checks, while ‘high risk’ goods will now be checked at the border rather than at the destination.

The original intention was that between 1% and 30% of medium risk goods would be checked and 100% of high risk goods would be subject to inspection.

However, reports suggest that traffic flow is being prioritised over compliance meaning that goods are being waived through custom checks, presumably due to a lack of adequate planning and resources.

Nevertheless, fees on fish, meat and dairy products, known as the common user charge, have been introduced in full at a maximum rate of £145 per consignment. This can equate to fees in excess of £1,500 per lorry load. This is despite the fact that physical checks are not actually taking place to any real effect.

In reality what we are witnessing, yet again, is the failure of the UK Government to prepare for their own Brexit plan. These failures are directly damaging and undermining UK farmers and producers and making a mockery of the exceptionally high animal health and welfare standards we work to whilst now also imposing significant costs upon UK importers for no good reason.

The UK Government has acknowledged that “these border checks are fundamental to protecting the UK’s food supply chain, farmers and natural environment against costly diseases reaching our shores.

“Their cost is negligible compared to the impact of a major disease outbreak, such as foot and mouth disease in 2001, which cost businesses and our wider economy more than £12.8 billion in 2022 prices.”

We wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments, but unfortunately they go completely against the negligible benefits these new checks offer in protecting our food supply chain. This comes just days after three tonnes of illegal meat was seized at the border in Dover.

We would welcome any moves that ensured both food imports and exports are subject to the same custom and standard controls which not only provides a level playing field between UK and EU producers but also significantly reduces the risk of diseases such as African Swine Fever and Bluetongue. We are, however, concerned that in reality the implementation of full standard controls have effectively been delayed for a sixth time leaving UK exporters once again at a severe disadvantage compared to our EU counterparts.

We should not be in a situation where we are limping from extension to extension because of the UK Government’s lack of planning and foresight. The result of such incompetence is that Welsh and UK businesses continue to suffer from unfair competition.