The Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture says it will not have the capacity to provide the necessary paperwork for trade in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
On Thursday, The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) announced its plans to manage the needs of the agri-food sector if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
The department says that in a no-deal scenario, the potential demand for Export Health Certificates (EHCs) could jump from 18,000 to 1.9 million, a need that the department says it will not able to meet.
An Export Health Certificate is an official document signed by a vet or qualified person to verify a food or animal export meets the health and safety requirements of the importing country – in this case, the EU.
“In line with our Reasonable Worst Case Scenario planning, the number of certificates required per annum could increase from the current 18,000 to 1.9 million or more,” the department has said.
In the event of a no deal, food retail and distribution would require EHCs to the EU, which it currently does not, and would account for approximately 75% of new certification requirements.
Chief veterinary officer Dr Robert Huey said: “Anyone who wishes to move live animals or agri-food to the EU including the Republic of Ireland, will need an EHC.
“That’s anything from dogs, horses, all food containing milk, cheese, eggs, when they’re talking about regulatory controls in the single market, this is what they mean.
“A whole new group of certificates will be needed for retail distribution, for things like sandwiches, pizzas, cream buns, anything that contains milk product will need a certificate – that’s completely new work.
“Very small businesses which are registered and approved because they’re currently in the EU and single market and in the region of the border can sell products to the south without controls.
“For instance, local butchers selling sausage rolls into the local filling station, they won’t be able do that anymore in a no-deal scenario, until they get approved so they need to speak to us.”
Although the 1.9 million figure is an estimate, the department projects that the actual demand will depend on the ability of businesses to maintain their existing trade contracts.
Many predict that given the broad range of third country requirements they will need to meet if they wish to continue to trade with the EU, some businesses will be forced to cease trading on the continent.
Dr Huey said: “While trading patterns and practices will adjust and the need for all 1.9 million certificates is unlikely to fully materialise, we have planned for the reasonable worst case scenario.
“We have scaled up as much as possible but still, demand may exceed capacity.”
DAERA has been building capacity in preparation for the UK leaving the EU on October 31 without a deal, by re-prioritising the work of up to 100 vets, training existing staff to operate as Trade Certification Support Officers and recruited 100 additional administrative personnel.
The department has also been working alongside private veterinary practitioners to ensure they can provide certificates to service this new demand.
Dr Huey added: “We need businesses to think about this and the consequences and how they’re going to reorganise their businesses to do this.
“My concern is people are so sick of Brexit, they might stick their heads in the sand, and if there’s no deal and they haven’t planned ahead, and find they can’t export, we can’t leave it any longer, now is the time.”