The British government decision to postpone the tightening of phytosanitary rules for imports until the beginning of 2022 was received with great joy by the Dutch Flower Auction Association (VBN). “This report from London has calmed fears in the flower sector,” says Eveline Herben of VBN. "The phytosanitary certification of cut flowers has shifted from April 1, 2021 to January 1, 2022. This gives the parties involved more time to adapt the logistics processes involved in this to the new situation."
The VBN is an important organisation representing the interests of the floriculture sector. The auction acts as a hinge between the producers and traders of cut flowers and plants. In this role, the VBN is closely involved in all issues arising from Brexit. This is in collaboration with the Association for Wholesalers in Flower Nursery Products. The organisations are in close contact with the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the NVWA, the KCB and the agriculture team at the Dutch embassy in London.
Eveline Herben is responsible for this file at the VBN. She is also chair of the working group on flowers & plants of the European organization Copa / Cogeca. This EU umbrella organization has also been working for years to reduce the damage to agricultural trade caused by the UK's exit from the European Union. "Brexit is a European affair, but when it comes to the floriculture sector, the interests of the Netherlands are by far the greatest."
Is Brexit a tricky issue?
“It certainly is, partly because the UK's policy is constantly changing. This became clear again on 11 March when the UK postponed the entry into force of procedures that are important to us by nine months. In this case, this is beneficial for cut flower exports. In November last year, the British authorities suddenly decided that a phytosanitary certificate would be required for all cut flowers to be exported from 1 April 2021. Before that, it was reported that this was only necessary for some types of cut flowers. Now there is another delay. Given the huge volumes going to the UK, such a change will have major implications. The parties involved are forced to constantly switch.”
How important is the UK to the Dutch floriculture sector?
“The numbers speak volumes. The UK imports € 1.2 billion worth of plant material and cut flowers per year. € 855 million of this comes from the Netherlands, or more than 70%. Some of it is grown in other EU countries or comes from third countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Colombia and Ecuador. This flow goes via the Netherlands to the UK and therefore also has to deal with new procedures. Altogether, this involves an estimated 250,000 shipments per year. Phytosanitary certification, a direct result of Brexit, therefore has a huge impact. Especially since many shipments contain batches of different origins. ”
The deal between the EU and the UK in December 2020 means no levies at the border. Is that a positive for trade from the Netherlands?
“For cut flowers, the rate would be 8%. That rate has been set at zero by the agreement for cut flowers grown in the EU and is of course a big plus for the sector. But this does not apply to flowers from third countries that go to the UK via the Netherlands. An 8% import duty is charged on this. Flowers from Kenya, for example, can go directly to the UK at a zero rate due to the Kenya-UK trade agreement, but not if these flowers have been cleared in the Netherlands first. This happens because Dutch traders put together a diverse range of products with different origins for customers in the UK. You cannot simply change that logistics chain in the floriculture sector. ”
The UK recently decided to postpone the phytosanitary certification requirement. Were you surprised?
“Our advocacy has always focused on that. Suddenly the time has come. The postponement concerns cut flowers, three quarters of the floricultural flow to the UK. Pre-notification and phytosanitary certificates will become mandatory for cut flowers from 1 January 2022. That was going to be 1 April 2021 originally. Physical phytosanitary inspections in the UK will not take place from 1 July 2021, but from March 2022. This gives the sector some relief. We are given time to possibly realise more risk-based inspections and to prepare the chain in an intelligent manner. This involves, for example, linking the British digital systems to those of the NVWA. This link is necessary to maintain speed in the logistics chain and to keep costs down. The bilateral discussions on this are now under less time pressure. That is positive, but we must make sure that the sector does not sit back and relax. With Brexit, the UK has become a third country, which in any case presents obstacles and leads to additional costs. We can only try to limit the damage. This requires action from all parties in the chain. Postponement on a number of points is nice, but the urgency to prepare the export chain to the UK remains the same. ”
How has the export of plants and cut flowers to the UK been going since 1 January?
“The export figures for January and February give a mixed picture. For cut flowers, a plus of 14.2% was realised compared to the same period in 2020. The export of plants decreased by 12% in those two months. For plants, the certification obligation and inspections took effect on 1 January and this had immediate consequences. This section of the floriculture sector has already suffered quite a bit.”
Source: Agroberichten Buitenland