Post-Brexit Freight Challenges
We’ve all read the stories of truck drivers having their ham sandwiches confiscated by over-zealous border officials, but when it comes to moving goods between the UK and EU in the post-Brexit world, have things improved?
Where organic is concerned, things certainly seem to be getting better. The expanded team at Soil Association Certification that issues organic Certificates of Inspection (COIs) - required by EU ports for all consignments containing organic food, feed, seed and livestock - are reporting a fast growing numbers of COI’s issued and a corresponding fall in enquiries from panicked exporters.
Five months into the new world of trading, and despite a Trade & Cooperation Agreement with the EU, it’s fair to say that many organic businesses who've attempted to move goods are still facing challenges.
We'll be exploring some of these challenges in this blog post, and are collating interest for a forum on this topic later in the month - if you're interested in taking part, do register via our survey.
27 member states with differing import procedures
Regards the organic specific certification requirements, Sarah Beasley of The Organic Herb Trading Company recalls that establishing the process of identifying the correct Border Control Point (BCP) to clear the goods smoothly, and also endorse the COI, was a huge uphill battle for them at first:
“Defining a single process was impossible, as there are 27 member states with differing and complex import procedures to learn and put into place. We've worked closely with our customers, their agents, and also the BCPs directly, and now see many more smooth and successful applications and endorsements of the COI.”
It seems that many EU countries still operate to different rules, and that these can change at fairly short notice, which can cause serious headaches. Although many have struggled with this shifting regulatory landscape, and the complexities around certifications and declarations - and understanding responsibilities for these when trading on different terms - it’s the knock-on effect on freight and logistics that appears to be the key challenge right now.
Hold-ups at port
A common source of frustration is additional clearance requirements leading to delays in clearance, with one port in the Netherlands reporting a three-week delay in movements owing to a back-log in processing organic COI’s. It's not surprising, therefore, to hear that there's some reluctance on the part of freight forwarders to handle specific goods, such as organic. Vehicles held up at port means freight businesses are unable to employ drivers and vehicles for other work.
Michael Smith of Ginger Dragon exports organic inclusions for processors in the EU, and is just one organic business finding it harder to get existing forwarders to take his product:
“One long-term supplier for this service that we've been using for around seven years has completely dropped out of the market. They’ve told us it’s totally unviable and they're not interested in shipping organic at any price, except a dedicated truck, which is a very, very expensive way to ship.”
Going it alone
As well as increased costs, there is also the challenge of the disappearance of other more cost-effective options, such as groupage. While it may previously have been more cost-effective to pool goods for shipping, the complexity of one lorry containing multiple consignments with a number of different importers, exporters and 1st consignees can simply prove unworkable from an endorsement of goods perspective.
Previously reliant on groupage, Operations Manager at Helen Browning Organics, Kevin Mee, says his business now has to use a dedicated truck for shipments, as their preferred haulier temporarily suspended any Product of Animal Origin (POAO) groupage shipments.
“The vet requirement is for vehicles collecting 'POAO' goods to be sealed at point of collection, which cannot be fulfilled with groupage consignments. There's also conflicting information on vet procedures in different UK areas, risking inspection rejections at the French Control point.”
Having dedicated transport isn’t without its own issues. Consignments need to be big enough to be cost effective, and this can force operational changes, to the detriment of a business. For Kevin, this has almost doubled transport costs and become very time consuming.
Vendor, sender and you
Another area of uncertainty is cross-border e-commerce. With typically small parcels moved by international couriers, not only is it currently unclear what the responsibilities are for vendors and couriers, but with the port of entry often unknown when goods depart, it’s really not clear how organic clearance would function.
Finally, there's the challenge of a reduction in choice and competition, as frustrated freight forwarders leave the industry altogether. For Michael Smith, this prospect may be the saddest indictment of how challenging things have become:
“We have our shipping agent capable of delivering to European destinations, but since all the trouble with the freight from China, the delays at the UK docks, and all the paperwork and unnecessary bureaucracy, the owner says he's had enough of the whole business and is considering getting out.”
No easy solution
Of course, an end to decades of unfettered access to EU markets was never going to be without challenges. The main trade association representing both freight forwarders and customs agents are well aware of the heavy blow Britain’s departure from the Single Market and the Customs Union has dealt to many supply chains.
"This is particularly true for importers and exporters of organic produce that were faced with additional documentation and certification requirements, border inspections and delays caused by logistical bottlenecks,” notes the British International Freight Association’s (BIFA) Policy & Compliance Advisor, Pawel Jarza. Acknowledging that there is no easy solution, accepting that your business model may need to change, and remembering what remains important are BIFA’s advice on easing the transition.
“Knowing your product, documentation and licencing requirements, good communication between the buyer and the seller, and last but not least: working closely and transparently with your logistics provider are always the 'must have' conditions of a good supply.”
We're going to be holding a virtual forum for a small number of organic businesses to share their freight and logistics challenges as we explore how we can work together as a sector to get organic moving again. Places will be limited, but please fill out our survey using the link below to register your interest in taking part.