For more than two decades, Unexport has shipped millions of kilograms of produce annually from farms in the southern Spanish region of Murcia to clients in the UK. Brexit has transformed the relatively straightforward process into a bureaucratic nightmare, yielding border waiting times of up to 10 hours for lorries laden with lemons and lettuce, said Domingo Llamas, its president.
Given the damage already inflicted by the UK’s exit from the bloc, plus the coronavirus pandemic, he sees the final implementation of thrice-delayed checks as just “one other thing” to manage.
“The lorry that doesn’t have the document will be caught in the queue and those in behind will have to wait for them to move aside,” Llamas says. “At the end of the day, it might mean more time in the queue.
“There’s just more and more bureaucracy. You need this document, this document isn’t completed properly, now go back to the queue and so on. Covid isn’t helping either.”
Even when lorries arrive at the border with all the necessary documents, they risk being held up by less prepared hauliers. “If those in front of you don’t have their paperwork in order, everyone suffers the consequences as nobody can advance.”
The constant threat of delays has left many drivers in Spain reluctant to take on UK-bound deliveries, pushing up the cost of the route and ultimately translating into higher prices for consumers, he said. “And any driver who isn’t very comfortable in English, they’ll have more problems. So there are many who have told their bosses that they don’t want to go to England, that they can be sent to other places but not England.”
EU wine and beer exporters have already had to adapt to the checks, which the UK brought in for alcohol on 1 January 2021. However, further changes mean the sector still faces extra paperwork from the start of 2022.
For many French winemakers, the UK is such an important market – in terms of size and prestige – that they have been preparing meticulously.
“We anticipated this and have been preparing for a long time,” said Audrey Dokie, the logistics and sales administration manager at the Louis Moreau estate in Burgundy.
The historic, family-run vineyard exports chablis around the world, but the UK is its biggest market. “We do know that next year it’s going to get much more difficult in terms of the extra details that will be required on each label,” said Dokie. “It’s going to be a more complex logistics operation and it won’t be easy, but we’ll go ahead and manage it.
“Because we export worldwide, we’re used to adapting to rules, we have a flexibility. For much smaller winemakers it might be harder,” said Dokie.
Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of Les Domaines Paul Mas vineyards in the Languedoc region, said: “Winemakers are generally well-versed in administrative constraints, so we’ll get through this and continue exporting. That said, there will be increased costs and the consumer might end up paying more.”