FDF CEO Karen Betts received an OBE from the Queen last week for her services to international trade, thanks to her former role as head of the Scotch Whiskey Association.
But if the FDF under Betts can find a solution to the post-Brexit mess affecting UK ports, it will surely be ready for Damehood at the very least.
Yet that is just one of the aims of an ambitious new strategy paper from the Federation this week, which calls for a complete overhaul of UK import and export policy, including a bonfire of bureaucracy threatening imports and future trade deals.
So what’s in the FDF’s plan?
The FDF’s 20 recommendations for its UK business investment strategy
1. Ensure continued reform of the UK import tariff for food and drink.
2. Establish pre-negotiation standard assessments for potential preferential trading partners.
3. Negotiate a solid content of the free trade agreement on standards.
4. Ensure simple and practical rules of origin for all preferential tariffs.
5. Create new licensing rights to UK brand identities for exporters.
6. Defend UK food and drink brand equity by defending intellectual property.
seven. Develop a blended skill set for agricultural attachés.
8. Create a new regulatory register for UK exporters.
9. Pursue mutual recognition agreements on food and beverage standards with major trading partners.
ten. Promote mutual trust in regulations to ease customs requirements.
11. Undertake a complete digital overhaul of the “frontier” for food and beverage commerce.
12. Design a single government border approach to support the Single Window.
13. Create joint customs offices with key trusted trading partners.
14. Expand risk-based approaches to customs enforcement.
15. Focus on sanitary and phytosanitary capabilities, not shipments.
16. Define a new approach for trusted traders.
17. Develop a strategic plan for UK port capabilities.
18. Ensure tax relief for capital investments in food and beverages.
19. Make the UK a world leader in food and drink innovation regulation.
20. Provide fiscal support for R&D.
The document comes days after the government began preliminary talks with trade bodies and big business to try to find new solutions to the border crisis, following the recent decision by Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg to delay imposing import controls until the end of next year after “warning” they could cost industry more than £1billion a year. It was the fourth time the industry has watched the barrel of new checks only for the deadline to be scrapped, leading to what some consider a “chaotic” standoff.
As The Grocer revealed this month, government officials have asked industry to come up with ideas for a “digitised, simplified and proportionate” system, which would reduce the bureaucracy and delays feared by the new checks at imminent, with checks to start at the end of 2023 and a fully-fledged digitized system in place by 2025.
The FDF’s strategy calls for a “complete digital overhaul” at the border, which would see the need for paper removed from all commercial and official certification requirements for imports and exports.
Describing the system of physical export health certificates (EHC) and physical inspections by official veterinarians (OV) as “an overly heavy approach to food safety inherited from the EU”, he says there must be a complete overhaul of the UK’s approach to health. and phytosanitary measures (SPS).
It also calls for a massive simplification of the government agencies involved, with food suppliers currently having to negotiate with border forces, HMRC, FSA, Defra and port health authorities, even before a comprehensive system of controls is in place. in place.
The ongoing talks, he says, are a chance for the government to work with industry to devise a new “world-class” approach that removes the need for certificates altogether.
A “dramatic increase in trade efficiency”, particularly on high-volume routes between the UK and the EU, would result, according to the report.
Instead of veterinary checks, the FDF argues that the government should introduce monthly or even annual declarations for customs processes which are controlled by audits for businesses, with a “risk-based” approach. This would remove trusted businesses from border customs requirements.
But it’s not just on border checks and paperwork that the document calls for a departure: there’s also the matter of basic requirements for standards and the safety of food entering the UK.
It says future free trade agreements should also always be “pragmatic”, while setting out a clear expectation that trading partners will commit to a basic set of standards on issues such as animal welfare, land and water use, deforestation, labor standards and good manufacturing practice.
“Our report looks at how we are putting food and drink at the heart of the UK’s new independent trade policy”
The government, he says, should “strike a balance in its national regulatory regime between ensuring it has high standards that protect consumers” and enforcing “the simplest possible regime for getting food in and out and drinks on the UK market”.
It also warns that the UK is still vulnerable to a threat to its food security, due to factors such as the uncertainty of seasonal production and variable weather conditions.
“It is particularly important now, at a time of rising costs for businesses and consumers, that the UK makes full use of all available trade tools to dampen inflation,” Betts said. “Our report looks at how we are putting food and drink at the heart of the UK’s new independent trade policy, and ensuring it helps businesses grow and thrive.”
The UK food industry may not always have been at the heart of government import and export policy, but it always tends to be at the heart of the argument. Given the issues outlined in this latest report, there are likely many more to come.