EU exit food and drink sector update: October 2020

Food and drink sector update to help businesses prepare for the end of EU exit transition period.


The UK has left the EU, and the transition period after Brexit comes to an end on the 31st of December 2020. From that point forward, businesses trading with EU Member States and EFTA countries will do so on a ‘third country’ basis (should the UK secure so-called “third country status”). This will require changes to how businesses operate and have documentation and certification implications that we have not been accustomed to for several decades. Negotiations continue with the EU with respect to a free trade agreement, but it is anticipated that any agreement reached will not remove the new non-tariff trading obligations.

The Scottish Government worked hard to provide helpful information and guidance to importing and exporting businesses in 2019, and that material remains relevant and applicable to the circumstances we are likely to encounter at the end of 2020. However, new issues have emerged since then, and this update document covers some of these.

While much of the UK Government’s information and guidance is relevant to Scottish food and drink businesses, there are some differences in approach and policy due to many aspects of food and drink being devolved.  That is why we are providing this update.

There will be inevitable overlaps in the information provided in the links referred to in this document. The Scottish Government seeks to ensure that this guidance is up-to-date and accurate but requirements may change. You should consider seeking professional advice before making specific preparations. This guidance does not constitute legal or professional advice and we cannot accept liability for actions arising from its use. The Scottish Government is not responsible for the content of pages referenced by external links.

Practical actions you can take now

There are some actions that you can take now which may help you and your business to prepare for the end of the transition period.  It should be noted that the Prepare for Brexit website will be updated frequently with new information as it becomes available.   The Find Business Support website is also a great source of information regarding help and support available to businesses.   

Encourage your staff to register for EU Settlement Scheme 

EU exit will bring to an end the free movement of people between the UK and EU and this may affect your existing workforce (and their families) as well as future recruitment plans.

Identify your staff who are non-UK EU citizens or who have close family members who are EU citizens. Retain your staff by helping them register under the EU Settlement Scheme using the Employer Toolkit.

From 1 January 2021 you will need to comply with UK immigration arrangements to employ EU workers. In particular, the ability to recruit lower skilled and seasonal workers may be restricted.  In February the UK Government published their proposals for the UK’s future borders and immigration system.

Get your UK EORI Number (Economic Operator Registration and Identification)

You’ll need a UK EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification) which is 12-digit number that starts with 'GB' to continue to move goods in or out of the UK. HMRC has already issued EORI numbers to VAT-registered businesses.  If you are not VAT-registered you will need to apply for an EORI number.

An EU EORI number is only required if you are responsible for landing the goods in the EU country of destination and making the customs declaration to the relevant EU customs authority. If your UK business is not responsible for making this declaration to the relevant EU authority, then you will not require an EU EORI.

If you have forgotten or lost EORI number you can contact the EORI team online.

Check your contract terms

Knowing the International Terms and Conditions of Service (INCOTERMS) will help you set the right contract terms to reflect potential changes of status (becoming an exporter/importer) following the transition period.  Possible changes to pricing and payment policy and INCOTERMS may impact your cash flow and pose a greater risk of non-payment. Your dispute resolution/arbitration clauses may need to be amended (e.g. to the International Chamber of Commerce or trade association).

Understand the implications of changes at UK borders

The rules for importing and exporting goods from the EU is changing. For imports, there will be new customs arrangements and a phased approach to checks on SPS goods will apply. This includes pre-notification and export health certification requirements, in addition to entry of SPS goods at a designated BCP for the commodity type and a risk based checks.  

You can find an approved UK Border Control Post (BCP) to check the animals, animal products or high-risk food and feed of non-animal origin in your consignment.

The Northern Ireland Protocol

The UK government recently published first a ‘command paper’ on the NI border, then the NI Business Guidance, which is intended to outline some of the requirements for the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Aspects of the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol are still subject to the outcome of negotiations. The UK Government has also introduced its United Kingdom Internal Market Bill to Parliament, which affects the implementation of the NI Protocol. The working assumption is that Export Health Certificates (EHCs) will be required for trade in products of animal origin between GB and NI [also certification required for plant products etc.]. Further guidance will be issued should the situation become clearer.

Understand Export Health Certificate Requirements

Some food and drink exporters will be aware of the need for Export Health Certificates after the end of the transition period, and this topic is covered in some of the other guidance referred to in this paper. Find out how to get an export health certificateIn addition you can search for available certificates.

Scottish Government Ministers have requested that officials within Scottish Government and FSS consider an alternative approach, specifically at existing logistics hubs.  This EHC provision would be at a minimum of two key logistics hubs in Scotland, which will operate a ‘groupage’ system to help food business export effectively and efficiently after the EU-exit transition period. More information will shortly be communicated, and will be available through the Brexit section of the Food Standards Scotland website.

Get help with export and customs documentation from your local Chamber of Commerce

Eight Chambers of Commerce in Scotland are licensed by HM Government and HMRC to issue export and import-related documentation and services. Providing expert advice and support, they can answer your questions on export and customs documentation, changes to documentation systems and associated process changes brought about by Brexit.

This service is available to all companies, not just members of the Chambers. To access this support, just call your nearest Chamber. The eight licensed Chambers are:

Check the rate of tax and duty you’ll need to pay

You’ll need to pay excise duties if you’re importing alcohol, tobacco or biofuels.

Find out the rate of excise duty on imports

Businesses holding inventory in the EU may become liable for EU VAT after the transition period. If so, seek professional advice on any tax liabilities and take action now to mitigate against increased business costs and risk.

Further Information

There is further food and drink sector specific guidance on the UK Government website.

Please keep checking back to relevant Scottish Government websites for updates, and of course several more of these update briefings will be widely circulated in due course.

Much of the online guidance we have pointed you towards contains details of who you can contact for further advice, in relation to the specific area or topic you are concerned about.

If you have any general enquiries that you would like to direct to Marine Scotland, Food and Drink Division or Food Standards Scotland, the contact details are:

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