December always seems like a good time for me to look back over the year and take stock: to reflect on the changes that were thrust upon us and the ones that we chose. In the last year we have lived through two historical events. One was global – the COVID-19 pandemic – and the other domestic – the UK leaving the European Union. Each one has affected our world view, work and trading in different ways.
From a domestic point of view, last December the UK agreed a deal with the European Union to deliver what the British public voted for in the 2016 referendum and the general election: Brexit.
Great Britain was granted “third country” listed status by the EU on 28 December 2020. This meant that, as a non-EU country and an independent trading nation, GB could continue to export goods to the EU after 1 January 2021. Becoming an independent trading nation also meant the implementation of a lot of new rules and specific actions to take for GB exporters and certifying officers – namely, exports of live animals and products of animal origin (POAO) to the EU now require an export health certificate (EHC) signed by an official certifier. For POAO this was a significant change.
To date (November 2021), the UK government has provided £114 million towards measures to support businesses affected by the new export controls including webinars, dedicated helplines and forums for traders and vets to bring their challenges directly to us.
Between January and July 2021, GB traders made around 48 million customs declarations for exports. More than 900 GB-wide certifying officers signed off 140,000 EHCs to the EU and the rest of the world. This is a phenomenal effort.
Official Veterinarians have played an important part in identifying the challenges and helping to develop and share solutions. This hard work has yielded real improvements, reducing our non-compliance rates to less than 1 percent
Throughout the course of this year, Defra and APHA have continued to work closely with GB exporters and the EU authorities, both at national and Border Control Post level, to resolve any issues that UK exporters may be facing. Official Veterinarians have played an important part in identifying the challenges and helping to develop and share solutions. This hard work has yielded real improvements, reducing our non-compliance rates to less than 1 percent.
It is important to remember that the EU sets out their import controls and checks in their legislation. While they need to comply with World Trade Organization rules and check that they align with the OIE standards, it is in their gift to set their rules as they want to protect public and animal health.
As UK Chief Veterinary Officer, along with other technical colleagues, I continue to engage with my opposite number in the EU Commission to ensure a common understanding of their export rules and how they should be applied. We are also working to clarify areas where there can be differing interpretations of EU rules and ensure a consistent approach both in understanding of EHCs and in Border Control Post decision making.
Looking ahead to January 2022 – changes to Animal Health Regulation EHCs
One further change from the EU around EHCs is the new Animal Health Regulation (AHR) EHCs, implementing new and amended EHCs from 15 January 2022. It includes EHCs for all products of animal origin, live animals, germinal products and composite products.
Currently, we have more than 900 certifying officers signing EHCs, but we know there are around 1,000 more who are trained to do this work across Great Britain. There is a real opportunity here for these vets to use their training and skills in 2022.
The EU’s proposal will mean that current EHCs signed before 15 January 2022 can be used until 15 March 2022 for goods en route to the EU
The EU’s proposal will mean that current EHCs signed before 15 January 2022 can be used until 15 March 2022 for goods en route to the EU. Changes to the rules for the certification of composite products which took effect in April 2021 continue to apply.
Completing paper EHCs, I recognise, is an admin-heavy and burdensome process. Technical work is underway in Defra to deliver e-certification for export health certificates, subject to RCVS approval. This work is being conducted in parallel with technical and policy discussions with the European Commission to make sure the delivery is technically acceptable to the EU. This work has been accelerated as part of the GB to NI Digital Assistance Scheme but will be equally beneficial to GB exporters certifying via EHC Online.