Posted: 29/07/2021

Brexit-related admin and cost increases causing Continental organic export issues

organic export

The British organic export sector is close to abandoning EU markets after being hit with a wave of administrative burdens, cost hikes and logistical problems since Brexit.

Firms supplying organic products to the continent have spoken out about the difficulties they have faced since the UK fully left the EU at the start of the year.

Six months since the Brexit transition period ended, Soil Association trade relations manager Lee Holdstock said businesses had “run out of patience”.

He added that freight companies and large chain retailers were becoming less inclined to accept organic produce because of the administrative burden and the risk of costly hold-ups or rejections at ports.

“There are [organic food] businesses suggesting that if they get many more problems they will stop exporting to the EU,” he said. “Individual businesses have incurred extraordinary costs, and others are worried about incurring such costs. Some businesses will explore other areas; there will be a consolidation of exporting effort.”

Alex Smith, managing director at organic producer Alara Wholefoods, said the export situation since Brexit had been a “nightmare”. 

“It has increased costs and lost us customers,” he said. “We had an organic export going to a customer in France, we didn’t quite get the paperwork right on one ingredient and the whole order was refused by French customs and sent back to the UK. It cost us an extra £3,000 in the end, about 25 per cent of our profit on the shipment.”

Alara has lost regular business in Italy and Portugal this year.

“Also our customers in Finland and Greece are buying a lot less. If they’re not buying large quantities of a product, it is not worth the hassle.”

Smith said Alara had been forced to shut its UK factory for one day a week after seeing its export revenue halve this year.  

“The enormous buoyant organics market in Europe is being extraordinarily curtailed,” he said. “It is hard work to find new markets – we were building our European sales for 25 years and that has been ripped away.”

David Harrison, owner of London-based Peregrine Trading, said the distribution company had found it “impossible” to supply its Seggiano and Lunaio brands into the EU from the UK, and blamed problems with the way UK and EU certification systems interact.

He added: “There is so much understandable ill-will towards the UK from our former EU partners that little or no progress is being made.”

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