Northern Ireland’s bustling and thriving agri-food industry is a source of great pride for me and for us all. The fresh produce, our excellent animal welfare standards, the high quality of our food and the close co-operation between industry and government are, frankly, the envy of many countries. We’ve positioned ourselves as a trusted supplier and punch well above our weight.
As we move closer to October 31, an absolute priority for me has been to help that industry navigate the export health certification changes that Brexit brings, whether the UK leaves with a deal or without one. We have been working tirelessly with agri-food businesses, traders, food processors, farmers and fishermen, helping them get to grips with what these likely changes mean for their business.
Leaving the EU without a deal will mean that all products of animal origin and live animals will need an Export Health Certificate (EHC) – 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 a no deal scenario, we estimate a potential demand of up to 1.9 million certificates could be required, assuming no change in trading patterns or practices. This increase is due to primarily to the emergence of a new sector requiring EHCs – the food retail and distribution industry, which will account for around 75 per cent of the new certification needs in NI.
We do, however, expect trading patterns to adjust and it is possible that the number of EHCs required will be less than this potential maximum. Some exporters will not be able to meet the requirements of the EHC. Others will not have enough resource to cope with the additional administrative workload of the EHC process and some will conclude that trade with the EU is no longer financially viable, not least because of the tariff barriers that will exist.
DAERA has, over many months, increased its capacity and redirected its resources to try and meet the projected needs of the agri-food industry, as far as possible. It’s been an extraordinary effort.
We have released almost 100 vets from other areas of work and are seeking others, trained around 300 members of staff to take on the role of trade certification support officers, as well as working across other parts of the public sector, to increase our capacity to provide 18,000 EHCs per annum to as many as 400,000 certificates per year.
DAERA will continue to provide EHCs for the meat and dairy processing industries, delivering as we always have, but on a much greater scale.
To meet the emerging EHC requirements of the food retail and distribution sector, DAERA is working alongside private veterinary practitioners to enable them to service this new demand, as well as continuing to certify live animals and animal-by-products. DAERA is intensifying training for both the private sector and its own vets to ensure they have the skills and capacity needed.
The principle behind all of our planning has been to protect public, animal and plant health, as well as keeping trade flowing. I acknowledge that this is a difficult time for our agri-food industry and trading conditions will be challenging. Our priority is to help the sector understand the changes that Brexit may bring in terms of export certification requirements.
Agri-food businesses will need to adjust their own practices in order to meet the new requirements and enable them to continue to trade. We would encourage producers to look into this now and take reasonable steps to prepare for the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October. You can find the information you need at www.daera-ni.gov.uk/brexitehc
We in DAERA will continue to do all we can to support businesses to comply with their export health certification obligations.