Customs checks to cost importers 330m gbp

After putting off the implementation of full customs checks five times for imported goods arriving in the UK, Westminster will start enforcing its post-Brexit customs regime for all imported goods in 2024. Cabinet Office minister of state, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, told MPs that the fully operational customs system would cost UK businesses an additional GBP330 million a year. About half this increase will be absorbed by veterinary paperwork, which was not demanded on day one of Brexit. The full cost of becoming a third country has effectively been concealed from the British public for five years and was only revealed on the eve of the Conservative party conference with a full and controversial agenda.

Home truthes about inflation

Never mind those tired voices from government benches, proclaiming lower inflation rates. Prices are still going up, slower than before, maybe, but they are unlikely to stabilise with a government that routinely lies and prevaricates from force of habit. The only promise that Boris kept during Brexit was “F*ck business.” The rest was cake-ism.


Going underground

After centuries of agriculture, scientists are finally admitting that they are in the dark about the role of earth worms. Today’s Guardian carries a piece in which earth worms are estimated to add 140 million tonnes of wheat to the world’s wheat harvest, without a fully-argued reasoning of how they might do this.

There is more than “nice to know” involved. Crop scientists have been happy to spray crops without a full understanding of what makes them grow well. Shouldn’t we change this?

Is digital documentation secure?

There is something to be said in defence of human-readable documentation. It’s not perfect, but you don’t need to open the file on a machine to get sight of it.

This summer, the European Union published its plans for an integrated digitised customs system to cover the entire single market. A single EU Data Hub will be phased in around 2028, providing a single unified portal for third country exporters to document shipments to the EU. Compliance, repeat orders, along with such customs documentation as will be retained by the new system, will all be locked up in this portal. The official line is that customs compliance will be enforced uniformly and centrally, giving customs officers “…a 360-degree overview of individual supply chains…” and freeing up resources to ensure that a centralised European Union customs agency will run like clockwork.

There are plans to abolish the 150-dollar duty-free allowance, a routinely exploited weak point in e-commerce. Consumers will no longer face unexpected charges on e-commerce transactions. This happy state of affairs will come about thanks to e-commerce platforms taking on the administration of tax and customs procedures. Sounds too good to be true.

Milestone or millstone?

This week the UK delivered the world’s first fully digitally documented consignment of goods. Burnley engineering firm Fort Vale became the first UK exporter to put electronic documentation on an equal footing with paper forms. This was made possible by the Electronic Trade Documents Act (ETDA), which came into force on Wednesday. To be sure, the goods involved were not food products, but Urban Food Chains wanted to mark the occasion anyway. Here’s a link to the statement.

A revolution in the making

The Appertisation of food launched a slew of events that led us to greet the dawn of industrialisation. In the early years of the French revolution, confiseur Nicolas Appert standardised a process that was doubtless known to many at that time. Appert’s single-minded work on heat treating sealed jars, bottles and metal canisters occupied him for years. He filled notebooks and diaries with his observations, recording in minute detail the empirical foundations of his research. Nicolas Appert was a member of the revolutionary Lombard section, radical protesters who took to the streets of Paris at moments of high tension in the French revolution.

A confiseur is a cook who prepares a range of savoury and sweet dishes that have been given long slow cooking until the food almost turns to mush. The standard equipment in a confiseur’s workshop of the time was a copper of boiling water and seasonal ingredients. Today, the word confiserie refers to boiled sugar confectionery, although it probably covered a wider range of foodstuffs in Appert’s day. Most of the confiseur’s stock lines were sealed with a layer of fat and had no shelf life to speak of.

However, Appert’s sealed bottles could be stored with increasing reliability. This “time travel for food”was a pivotal discovery for the future of urban life. As word spread of Appert’s achievements spread across the French capital, Appert was awarded a substantial sum in gold coins, on condition that he put his method into the public domain. A copy of Appert’s instructions reached Bordeaux wine merchant Pierre Durand, who promptly patented the idea in England. As an early trader in intellectual property, Durand struck a number of deals, including one with engineer Bryan Donkin in Bermondsey. The events that followed are covered elsewhere in this blog, in a short story.

The development of Appertisation as a commercial process led to a scaling up of the cooking process. What started out as a hot water bath was reworked as an autoclave or retort. In 1852, one of Nicolas Appert’s nephews, Raymond Chevalier-Appert patented a key component for an retort — a manometer or pressure gauge.

Meursing numbers in practice

Highly processed foods are a technical challenge for customs valuations, requiring standardisation and accuracy. In the EU the task of establishing a core element in the customs valuation is carried out by using a set of laboratory protocols to establish the precise proportions of dairy fats, dairy proteins and sugars.

The purpose of Meursing numbers is to provide a reliable way of calculating the duty on ingredients in highly-processed foods. The protocols cover the required procedures for measuring four ingredients: milk fat; milk protein; sucrose and invert sugars. These values are then read off a Meursing table, which has 32 rows for the possible combinations of the milk components and 19 columns for the sugars. The three figure codes in the tables are transferred to the customs documentation, preceded by a 7, flagging it as a special additional code.

Most third country exporters of biscuits and bakery goods face a lengthy documentation process. The UK, however, has not been required to use Meursing codes since April 2021. Not that this has stopped folk from feeling hard done by.

Hard cheese

Irish dairy farmers are seeing huge falls in demand and output in the wake of Brexit. The Irish Creameries’ Suppliers Association ICMS this week revealed that this was an ongoing situation and not a passing phase. Not surprisingly, the ICMS has some very substantial members who between them exported more than 80,000 tonnes of block Cheddar a year to the UK. Allow 13 tonnes of milk to make a tonne of Cheddar and store it for a year or two at a creamery, and it adds up to a significant business commitment.

Those with long memories will remember former farm minister Liz Truss regaling the 2014 Tory party conference with a hatchet job on British cheese imports. Surprisingly little change from today’s outbursts, really. Shows how little she learnt at DEFRA.

For a future reading list

Pic: Canongate

In a few decades, once political sensitivities have healed, there may be a generation that seeks to make sense of the current chaos. Former public policy editor of the Financial Times, Peter Foster, has written a contemporaneous account of the poor policy making that has dogged the Brexit negotiations and beyond. What Went Wrong With Brexit is published by Canongate. Visitors to Google Books will also find a sample chapter and a download link for purchases.

Fishy vegan salmon fillet?

Pic: Revo Foods

Watch out for the marketing hype from Revo Foods in Vienna: the company launched a vegan salmon fillet last week and the product is printed on a food grade computer. Vegan it may be, salmon it cannot be, if it is vegan; and fillet it is not, since it is not cut from a larger piece with bone or skeletal structure. The product name follows in the ‘meat and two veg’ tradition of vegetarian foods that routinely borrow descriptions used for butchery products to reinforce their claim to a place at the table. This vegetarian meal product’s claim to fame is the world’s first computer-printed food. This poses more questions than it answers, not least over the use of butchery terms for plant products, which is a long-running discussion at the European Commission. Share your thoughts in the comments box.

(Added September 21) On reflection, the most probable end users will be long haul space missions. I struggle to imagine products like this being served up in classy Viennese restaurants, not least because of the fact that it is neither meat, nor fish, nor fowl. But this kind of delivery system would be a good for intrepid astronauts who fear nothing…