Hopes for solution to UK-EU organic export teething problems
Under the Brexit trade agreement struck last Christmas Eve, food certified as organic in Britain can be sold as such in the EU until the end of 2023.
This initially sparked relief from the sector. But it didn’t take long for cracks to appear in the organic export agreement.
“It started to emerge in the New Year that there were gaps in the trade deal,” Soil Association trade relations manager Lee Holdstock told FFD. “We realised to our horror that, in essence, if a product is not grown or processed in a manner that substantially alters it within the UK then it is not within the scope of the agreement.”
A number of exceptions or workarounds exist, Holdstock said, but many UK food exporters have been caught out by technical issues within the EU’s much-maligned Trade Control and Expert System New Technology (Traces NT) system. They say certain apparently valid certification codes cannot be selected from a menu.
There has also been inconsistency from EU customs officials about the validity of using the codes that do exist in the system to recertify goods that were imported to the UK before shipping on – and also about what constitutes “substantial alteration” to a product.
“We are arguing to Defra that blending teas is a substantial change so that should come within the trade agreement,” said Holdstock. “We are now discussing ripening – if you ripen an avocado or banana is that a substantial change?”
He hopes a way forward can be agreed. “A dialogue group between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the European Commission will start meeting next month and it is hoped they will start to talk and we can start solving practical challenges to these organic export issues.”