Change in customs 'risks an increase in food prices'
Food prices could rise unless measures to tackle red tape and improve ports are put in place before Brexit, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned.
More than three-quarters of food imported by the UK comes from EU countries and will be covered by new customs arrangements after Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.
In a report setting out its goals for the future customs relationship, the BRC said delays, disruption or additional costs would "affect availability on the shelves, increase waste and push prices up".
The BRC warned a "no deal" scenario, with the UK leaving the EU without an agreement on future trading - or a transitional period to implement the new system - could result in major delays in getting perishable products across borders.
Leaving the EU will mean that annual customs declarations are estimated to rise from 55 million to 255 million and the BRC warned that a "no deal" situation could result in delays of up to three days at ports.
Exiting the EU on World Trade Organisation terms, without a deal with Brussels, would lead to 180,000 extra firms being drawn into customs declarations for the first time.
As well as a customs agreement, the BRC highlighted the need for deals with Brussels on health and veterinary checks, security, Vat and haulage.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said a strong deal was "absolutely essential".
"Whilst the Government has acknowledged the need to avoid a cliff-edge after Brexit day, a customs union in itself won't solve the problem of delays at ports," she said.
"So to ensure supply chains are not disrupted and goods continue to reach the shelves, agreements on security, transit, haulage, drivers, Vat and other checks will be required to get systems ready for March 2019.
"We want to work with the Government to develop a system which works for consumers, so that there's no difference in terms of the availability of affordable, quality products when they make purchases or visit stores post-Brexit.
"We believe our recommendations will help to achieve that and enable our world-leading retail industry to continue serving customers and contribute to the growth of the UK economy."
The BRC report highlighted the importance of cross-border trade with the Republic, saying it should be a priority to ensure that the new land frontier with the EU does not make it easier to dump goods on the market or more difficult to track food.