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UK shops fear holes in the shelves as new Brexit import rules strike

After queuing for a few minutes to check out the best on offer at the local deli, it’s time to decide.

Maybe some of the delicious Parma ham from Italy? With a few slices of Spanish chorizo? And a bit of brie from that farm in Normandy… oh, and definitely some of the black olives from Greece.

The government may shed light on new and cumbersome Brexit rules and regulations affecting imports to the UK from the EU which came into effect on January 1, but organizations representing small UK businesses are not. The companies are concerned about the impact on their business – and the choices their customers will have at their favorite specialty stores – on the high street.

The Federation of Small Businesses lists local delicatessens, many of which import from small specialist suppliers in the EU, as the kind of operators that could be adversely affected.

“The classic example is your deli importing delicacies such as chorizo ​​from Spain or parmesan cheese from Italy,” said James Sibley, the federation’s head of international affairs. “For them, the thought of having to register for these systems is daunting and the process is expensive, so we’re very concerned about that. For the small businesses that are directly affected, we have expressed a lot of concerns.”

The blow to small EU exporters to the UK could be similar to that suffered by UK exporters to the EU in the past year, many of whom simply gave up selling goods to the continent because post-Brexit export rules made it too difficult and too expensive to continue.

From early last year, UK exporters faced additional paperwork and additional costs, and their customers were stung by the resulting higher prices – despite claims by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and other Brexiteers that leaving the EU would ease regulation and would lead to lower prices.

Now, Sibley says, the effects for small UK importers could be similar to those faced by UK exporters in 2021.

“It’s the reverse of what happened to UK exporters over the past year. We know that a fifth of our exporting members have stopped exporting to the EU because of that disruption.”

Rules that came into effect on January 1 require companies (in most cases those who receive the goods in the UK, but in some cases those who send them here) to notify customs of exactly what’s coming from the EU. is shipped to the UK and from where . The rules were in effect in 2021. The process requires the exporter to obtain an Eori (Trade Operator Registration and Identification Number) number and then provide it to its UK customers so that the importers can then enter a lot of data and send it to UK authorities .

If the goods arrive with incomplete papers, they may be seized, confiscated or returned.

Sibley says there are indications that many EU exporters are unprepared for what lies ahead.

“What we’re hearing is that there are some EU traders who aren’t ready for this, even to the extent that they don’t have this number, so that’s a concern.”

Then there will be more rules and checks on 1 July of this year. “From then on, exporters also need export health certificates or veterinary certificates if they export products of animal origin or foodstuffs. That’s a point where some EU exporters might say, ‘You know what, forget this. It’s not worth the effort’.”

Sibley added: “Also in July there will be physical inspections of goods at UK border posts so again that could lead to delays as you will essentially have a vet with a clipboard through the lorry saying ‘this is right, this is fine, (or not)’.”

Business groups say the problems will mainly affect smaller operators, as larger companies can afford to pay customs brokers or freight forwarders to handle the paperwork for them.

Addressing a vote-leave meeting in 2016, Boris Johnson was among the prominent Brexiters who argued that leaving the EU would reduce regulation and lead to lower prices. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

On the high street in the UK, some shop owners are already concerned about the gaps in their shelves in 2022 and about rising prices.

Bristol’s only Spanish delicatessen, El Colmado imports just about everything: chorizo ​​sausages, huge Serrano hams and shiny green olives. Its owner, David Pavon, expects more disruption and rising prices as importers have to make real-time customs declarations, enter details of food imports into various customs systems and obtain special codes for trucks to board ferries.

“Logistics problems have already increased in the past year due to the havoc coming into England,” he says. “So I imagine we’re going to see even more delays in January because if a truck driver has to sit at the border for six hours or more, we have to pay his wages. We pay customs agents in Spain and here to enter the information [required for import], which also drives the price up.”

Pavon, 41, has already raised his prices – and expects to do so again in 2022. “They’re still going up and you’re going to see a rise and a rise,” he says. “Someone makes money along the way, but you and I will have to pay for it.”

The wholesalers who supply delis and specialty stores have similar concerns. Reading-based Cotswold Fayre, which supplies hundreds of premium food lines, including European favorites such as stol and panettone, to independent retailers across the UK, has been forced to budget for delays and cost increases on imported goods rather than invest in creating new ones. jobs .

“It’s not what we want to do – I’d rather spend on starting another store, but if we have to, we’ll do it” [absorb extra costs]”, says Paul Hargreaves, the founder of the company.

Hargreaves, who recently met his local MP Alok Sharma, believes the government does not understand the impact of Brexit on UK businesses. “[Ministers] are not in the real world. They think things are a lot easier than they really are. That is very frustrating,” he says.

“If they had had to experience it for themselves, maybe a little more effort would have gone into getting a better Brexit deal. The perception is that the ideology [of Brexit] is more important than the practicalities for UK businesses.”