Post-Brexit Border Delays Threaten UK and EU Horticulture Trade, Industry Leaders Warn

Nurseries and garden centres in Britain and Europe are raising alarms over the inefficiencies of new post-Brexit border posts, which are causing delays, damage, and significant extra costs for plant importers.

The Horticultural Trade Association (HTA), representing 1,400 UK garden retailers and growers, along with several European trade bodies, has penned an open letter urging immediate action to address these problems. They warn that the new border system, introduced in April, is adding over 25% to import costs.

The HTA reports that these checks have caused substantial delivery delays at the border, sometimes lasting up to 44 hours. These delays not only increase the risk of pests and plant diseases entering the UK but also result in significant financial burdens. For instance, one haulage company recorded 93 hours of driver waiting time in the first week of the new checks, incurring an additional £38,000 in pay. This company projects a £1.5 million increase in logistics costs over the next year, a 25% rise.

The new rules require specific plant and animal products entering the UK from the EU to be inspected at border posts near British ports. Previously, inspections were conducted randomly upon arrival at nurseries. The inefficiencies of the current system are highlighted by a recent incident where three trailers of plants were held for 44 hours due to a software glitch, causing most of the plants to wilt and be rejected by the end customer.

Signatories of the letter include the International Flower Trade Association, representing 80% of the global trade value of flowers and pot plants, and VGB, the Dutch floricultural wholesaler association. They stress that the costs of border inspections are making trade unviable for many small businesses, with some providers facing an additional £1,740 for mixed loads of plants.

Post-Brexit regulations categorise plants for planting as high-risk, subjecting them to more stringent checks than medium-risk items like meat and dairy. Importers argue that the border posts are inadequately equipped to handle large quantities and sizes of plant imports, leading to further delays and increased costs.

Previously, plants were held under controlled conditions at nurseries and farms before being inspected by government officials. Now, inspections are conducted almost exclusively at border posts. The government asserts that these measures enhance biosecurity by preventing harmful diseases from entering the country. However, the letter raises concerns about the quality of inspections, suggesting that some checks are superficial and that there is insufficient communication about the inspection results to end customers.

One example cited involves a load of 50 mature olive trees, known hosts for the bacterial disease Xylella fastidiosa, where checks were abandoned due to unloading difficulties. The customer received no information on the inspection’s status, raising biosecurity concerns.

The government has responded by stating it is working with traders to ensure efficient and swift completion of checks and has published guidance to help companies reduce delays. It assures that inspections are conducted by fully trained staff following standard operating procedures.

Additional signatories to the letter include the European Nurserystock Association, Royal Anthos (Dutch Association for Nursery Stock and Flower Bulbs), VBN (Dutch Flower Auctions Association), and Transport en Logistiek Nederland (Dutch Transport & Logistics Association).