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Post-Brexit checks on EU imports could be eased amid food shortages fears

Apples container ready for shipping.
From 1 July, all firms exporting to the UK will be required to fill out full customs declarations and goods could be subjected to physical checks at new UK customs centres. Photo: Getty

The post-Brexit rules on imports from the European Union could be relaxed due to fears that they could damage trade between Britain and the bloc and lead to food shortages in UK grocery stores.

Ministers are said to be preparing plans to loosen the border check rules on food and other imports from the EU, the Observer reported.

The newspaper citing several industry sources, said thatBrexit minister Lord David Frost is mulling allowing "lighter touch" controls on imports from 1 April than are currently planned.

Frost is also said to be seeking to scale back plans for full customs checks, including physical inspections, which are due to start on 1 July.

The UK government gave businesses some leeway to adjust to the changing rules by allowing them to trade as normal till 1 April this year, so they have time to get ready for the changes on 1 July.

But, under current plans, all items of animal origin including milk, eggs, meat and honey, as well as regulated plants and plant products, will require full documentation and, where necessary, veterinary certificates to be sold in the UK.

From 1 July, all firms exporting to the UK will be required to fill out full customs declarations and goods could be subjected to physical checks at new UK customs centres.

"The worry is that if we go ahead with more checks and move to checks on imports, then exporters will not be prepared and on this side we are not ready for that either. There is not the infrastructure in place yet or the number of customs officials necessary to carry all this out. We have already seen exports badly affected. The next nightmare could be imports," a senior industry source told the Observer.

On Sunday, Frost called on Brussels to "shake off any remaining ill will" towards the UK leaving the bloc and called on the EU to "build a friendly relationship between sovereign equals."

Great Britain officially left the EU's single market and customs union on 1 January.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson tells farmers UK 'wont compromise' on high food standards

Last week, research by the Food and Drink Federation of its members that exports goods to the EU found a 45% drop in exports since 1 January.

It comes after senior cabinet minister Michael Gove, last week said that grace periods to allow lighter enforcement on EU measures over grocery store goods, pharmaceuticals, chilled meats and parcels from the UK into Northern Ireland should be extended to January 2023.

Meanwhile, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) reiterated its view that the additional trade barriers caused by Brexit would reduce UK productivity by about 4% in the long run.

Last month, prime minister Boris Johnson told Britain's farmers his government "won't compromise" on safeguarding food and animal welfare standards.

Johnson made the pledge at the virtual National Farmers' Union (NFU) conference, in a bid to ease growing concerns in recent years that standards could be eroded.

The government's Brexit deal has given the UK significantly greater freedom to diverge from EU rules on areas including food and animal welfare.

Farming leaders and opposition parties fear the government could cave into pressure to downgrade standards in order to secure trade deals with countries such as the US. Alarm over potential chlorinated chicken exports or hormone-treated beef from the US has sparked particular controversy.

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