At the end of November, the UK Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) claimed that ‘UK growers and importers will be hit by massive hikes in statutory charges for plant health inspections of fresh produce and cut flowers’. According to the FPC, proposed changes include:
- ‘phytosanitary import inspection fees: 458% increase for plant health checks;
- plant passport fees: 111% increase for inspections;
- plant health licensing and services: 113-312% increases in fees;
- seed potato certification: 103% increase in fees;
- import services for potatoes originating in Egypt: 268% increase’.
According to FPC, this could lead to price increases of 1.9% at the consumer level ‘for no benefit whatsoever’ (cost increases at the level of imports would be proportionally much higher).
FPC maintains that ‘plant health issues arising from fresh produce are minimal; accounting for less than one per cent of all consignments’. In addition, ‘just 5 countries were responsible for 77% of the issues in relation to fresh produce and cut flowers, and 86% of interceptions related to just 4 products’. FPC called for better targeting of inspections on areas ‘where real plant health problems lie’, so as to avoid large cost increases.
FPC has also called for the more efficient deployment of the human resources of the inspection services to ‘better target its resources to stemming the problems by targeting the perpetrators and engaging in a dialogue with these countries’. FPC argues that greater use should be made of the ‘Assured Trader Scheme which recognises the high standards of reputable traders’.
This needs to be seen against the background of the wider government efforts to promote ‘full cost recovery’ for the services provided by the UK SPS and food safety inspection authorities.
The issues raised by the UK Fresh Produce Consortium provide an example of how wider macro-economic policies in the EU can adversely impact on the commercial environment for ACP horticultural and floricultural exports. These exports are already likely to be affected by the economic downturn (as consumer demand shrinks and prices are put under pressure), with increased inspection costs likely to add to the commercial challenges facing ACP exporters.
While established suppliers may well be able to absorb the increased charges, new entrants, with low initial volumes of exports, are likely to face more serious problems. New LDC horticultural exporters could be particularly severely affected.
In this context, the use of ‘aid for trade’ support to defray part of the inspection costs while new exporters build up a track record (which reduces the frequency of required inspections) may well be appropriate. Similarly, closer coordination of private sector schemes and public sector inspection requirements could also serve to reduce the frequency and intensity of inspections for some established exporters, without in anyway undermining SPS and food safety controls.
Given the fiscal challenges faced in the EU, promoting more efficient private–public sector collaboration on ensuring SPS compliance and food safety would appear an essential area for early action. This includes promoting closer collaboration with concerned public and private sector bodies in ACP countries. Such initiatives could serve to reduce the costs of inspections faced by ACP exporters.