Spotlight: No easy job for UK to shift fresh food supply chain over no-deal Brexit

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-08 04:42:21|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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LONDON, March 7 (Xinhua) -- There would be either supply shortage or prices hiking for some fresh foods on UK shelves if no-deal Brexit becomes a reality at the end of this month, since the country could not easily shift the supply chain in the short term, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).


In March, when UK produce is out of season, 90 percent of UK's lettuces, 80 percent of the tomatoes and 70 percent of the soft fruit is sourced from the EU, and 38 percent of all EU food imports is through Dover and Folkestone, said the BRC.

Currently in UK's supermarkets, most of the lettuces and tomatoes are imported from Spain by lorries through the crossings.

"The problem is whether we can get the fresh produce through the crossings easily if we leave without a deal. Huge capacity issues would occur if there are blocks as a result of checks," Tom Holder of BRC's press office told Xinhua.

He added: "Government data has suggested freight trade between Calais and Dover might reduce by between 30 to 87 percent against current levels, which is significant. That means people will start to seek alternatives of the ports."

British government has announced transitional simplified procedures for EU trade at roll-on roll-off ports, which would make it easier for traders importing from the EU after Brexit.

But Holder responded: "The problem is, most of the ports are not roll-on roll-off. Those are special ports that the same lorry can drive through."

Once the UK is outside the EU, its food industry will need to factor in time for longer inspections of food imports at its borders, said a report released by Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, in January.

"Delays of even a few minutes in the ports would result miles of detained lorries carrying fresh foods," said the BRC.

On average 8,000 lorries, Holder said, pass through Dover port everyday and the number will go up to 10,000 in peak season, before holiday periods.

"We won't say there would be empty shelves but a lower level of choices. Some products would be lacking on the shelves and some used to be on the shelves would no longer there," he said.


According to Holder, higher prices would also be expected as a result of "tariffs, non-tariff barriers and currency depreciation".

"Only around 10 percent of UK's food imports is currently subject to tariffs," the BRC said, "so if the UK were to revert to WTO Most Favoured Nation status, as currently envisaged in the no-deal scenario, it would greatly increase import costs."

Take tomato as an example. Currently tomatoes in UK's supermarkets can be imported from Spain and Netherlands by the same lorry into the UK, crossing the borders without tariffs.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, there would be a 21 percent tariff on tomatoes.

Although British government has promised to bring forward secondary legislation and set out the UK import tariff in a no-deal scenario soon, the BRC said that would have "a devastating impact" on UK's farmers if the government set import tariffs at zero.


Fresh foods, such as fruit and vegetable, being imported from the EU, have advantages.

Firstly, no tariffs. As a member of the single market, there are no internal tariffs for the UK. If the UK imports food from non-EU countries without a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), there will be tariffs which will likely make retail prices increase.

Secondly, low transport cost. The food can be transported by lorries from the continent while flying food is more expensive from further abroad.

Thirdly, less time. The fresh foods can not afford a long-distance transport and some foods must be refrigerated to keep them fresh on the long journey.

"Currently, the UK operates on a 'just in time' food system, maintaining five to 10 days' worth of groceries in the country, often less in the case of fresh produce," said the Chatham House's report.

The report mentioned the UK is dependent on EU member states for 70 percent of its imports in these areas and 30 percent of total UK food consumption.

"It doesn't really matter whether we can import from other countries out of EU, and it is not easy for UK retailers to shift supply chain in a short time," said Holder.