Small farming businesses dependent on individual product sales to the EU are being left out of pocket by an ’over-zealous’ interpretation of the rules in the new UK-EU trade agreement.
The Cheshire Cheese Company was forced to suspend its online direct sales with EU customers, which amount to £200,000 per annum, after orders were rejected at Customs from January 4.
Following weeks of uncertainty, the courier, DHL Express, told the company each individual package would require its own Export Health Certificate (EHC) in line with requirements specific to that country.
NFU director of trade and business strategy Nick von Westenholz told peers on the EU-Environment Sub-Committee that for companies selling high-quality products in small quantities, the issue was ‘quite seriously problematic’.
Simon Spurrell, managing director of the Cheshire Cheese Company, went even further, describing the situation as ‘game over’ for small food producers, with EHCs costing approximately £180 each.
The business had created German and French language versions of the website to boost EU customer numbers, but it now faces losing this route to market.
“It kills any trade with a person in France buying £30 worth of our cheese,” he said.
“Defra Ministers and MPs could not give me any answers or solutions as they did not know this would ever happen.
“We need to get past the one-upmanship and defensive battles about Brexit and find a united approach, as this issue is set in stone and affects all UK food producers.”
AHDB said smaller cheese exporters had previously essentially been delivering products to European customers rather than truly exporting.
Patty Clayton, AHDB lead dairy analyst, said any food product which would have been direct mailed to customers in the EU would now need an EHC.
“That trade will at least temporarily be restricted,” she said.
“It is too costly for smaller orders.”
She added she could not see how this challenge would be overcome without renegotiations with Europe.
British companies were also suspending orders into Northern Ireland, as the NI protocol meant the same difficulties applied in getting products over the Irish sea.
Scottish cheese producer, the Ethical Dairy, took to social media to highlight consumer orders to Northern Ireland would be suspended as the cost of compliance with new regulations was ‘unviable’.
The firm’s founder Wilma Finlay said: “The biggest blow is telling existing customers in NI that we can no longer send cheese.
“We are so sorry to be unable to find a workable solution.”