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New certificates were made available only a day before being made compulsory

Some of the UK’s main dairy exporters had to delay consignments bound for the European Union over the weekend due to confusion over new Export Health Certificate requirements.

According to Iain Roebuck, chief operating officer at organic dairy co-op Omsco, “the introduction of greater regulatory complexity combined with the necessary new certificates only being made available online less than 24 hours before they became compulsory, led to significant problems for UK dairy businesses looking to export to the EU over the weekend”.

Omsco had “re-commenced shipments” on Monday, Roebuck said. However, he added “significant challenges” remained at the border, particularly for organics via the EU’s Traces online platform for sanitary and phytosanitary certification, which meant “we have moved further away from the dream of frictionless exports”.

Roebuck’s concerns were mirrored by Andrew Kuyk, director general of the Provision Trade Federation, who said there had been “a lot of confusion in the last few days, and we are aware that a number of companies have paused exports while they await further clarification”. 

While Defra’s latest guidelines said exporters could use older versions of certificates, they also said exporters should ”please confirm” in advance if ”the BCP [border control post] of entry will accept the old EHCs” – which appears to have caused confusion.

The delays were reported three weeks after the start of Great Britain implementing border controls on goods entering the island from most of the EU, with the island of Ireland exempt for now. The EU imposed checks last year on goods going the other way.

New EU Commission data updated on Friday showed UK food, drink and tobacco exports fell by £2.7bn from January to December last year compared with the same 11 months in 2020. Most of the UK’s dairy exports, which were worth around £1.4bn in 2019, go to the EU, according to Dairy UK.

However, the border issues do not appear to have been across the board. Dairy UK CEO Judith Bryans said: “It may be that there have been isolated occasions of delays at individual border posts which haven’t impacted our sector overall.”

Bryans insisted “exporters are still able to use the old export administrative certificates for the time being, which has helped to smooth some of the anticipated disruption”.

A Defra spokeswoman confirmed the department was “aware of isolated cases where the introduction of some new Export Health Certificates by the EU has led to issues with exporting certain dairy items”, and said it was “engaging with the sector on this“.

She added: “Defra has had confirmation from a number of EU member states that their border control posts will accept [older] pre-AHR certificates until April 2022 – and we continue to engage with the EU to encourage them to take a pragmatic approach as part of our new trading relationship.”