Garden businesses wilt under Brexit trade rules

An internet garden centre boss who is now unable to fulfil hundreds of customer orders to Northern Ireland is urging relevant agencies to review new Brexit trade rules. Chris Bonnett, founder of GardeningExpress.co.uk, has written to the Animal and Plant Health Agency as a three-month grace period that plant retailers were supposed to be getting as part of the Brexit deal has not been honoured.

New trade regulations that have been implemented have left some English plant growers unable to ship products to retail customers or supply garden centres in Northern Ireland without lengthy inspections that are causing major delays. This is despite nurseries being told that plant and plant product suppliers were included in a list of authorised trades that were going to be given a three-month grace period, meaning that the new regulations and inspections would come into force on 1 April 2021, not 1 January 2021.

Chris now believes that the way the new rules are being implemented leaves UK growers at a severe competitive disadvantage, as well as the UK’s plant health status at risk. He feels that, had the sector been aware that the grace period would not be honoured, it could have been better prepared and therefore been able to continue shipping to Northern Ireland from January 1

Another of Chris’ concerns is that high-risk species can still be shipped directly from EU states into Northern Ireland without the level of checks British agencies are trying to enforce on domestic sellers to ensure the country remains free of plant diseases.

Foreign sellers can also have a 20% advantage in their retail pricing to UK customers because they benefit from low-value consignment relief and therefore do not have to charge any VAT to the UK consumer, meaning they also have a monetary advantage.

Chris Bonnett said: “When the Northern Irish trade agreement was finalised, we were told that authorised traders would be given a three-month grace period from official certification for products of animal origin, composite products, food and feed of non-animal origin and plants and plant products. So, the fact that we’re now unable to ship many plants without adhering to the lengthy and rigorous checks brought about by the new regulations, whilst our EU based competitors can, already is very frustrating.

“Had we known that the grace period wasn’t going to be honoured for us, we could have been much better prepared so that customer orders could have been shipped without any issues. Now, we’re unable to fulfill hundreds of customer orders from Northern Ireland which is extremely frustrating, detrimental to my business and unfair to the customers.

“As a UK registered company and an Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) registered nursery and trader, I believe under the various legal definitions we are authorised, and accordingly, should be able to operate freely throughout the UK during this grace period. This would then allow us to ensure we are in a position to meet all the new regulations we are obliged to. Our understanding is that the new regulations would therefore commence on 1 April 2021, not 1 January 2021.

“I feel it is unfair that we are unable to ship goods within our own country, which would be controlled and regulated as they should be, yet various other parties can ship in from abroad without restriction. If a neighbour was to import a pathogen carrying plant in this manner and infect my entire stock, what would be my position in respect of the financial loss, both in terms of stock and effectively closing my business?

“This to me is a wholly unacceptable situation, and the industry will suffer a substantial loss of business, and it will put many jobs at risk across the industry.”

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