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What Does the Windsor Framework Mean for Food and Drink Business in the UK?

What Does the Windsor Framework Mean for Food and Drink Business in the UK?

Scenes of empty supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland were a visible reminder of the challenges associated with the Irish border after Brexit.

With the UK now outside of the EU, businesses would have had to comply with the strict rules and border checks for goods being imported into the bloc. Yet political leaders recognised that a hard land border between the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Northern Ireland could stir up long-standing tensions, undoing the hard work that had gone into creating stability.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was introduced on 1st January 2021 in a bid to prevent this kind of hard border from being imposed. The solution was a sea border – but it quickly came clear that it wasn’t fit for purpose because it cut off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

As a result, goods arriving into Northern Ireland from other parts of the UK would be subject to checks, as if they were going to the EU.

The impact of this slowdown in trade was writ large when retailers struggled to keep the shelves stocked. Northern Ireland depends on the UK for both the sale and purchase of goods and services. Trade with the UK accounts for 29.7% (£14.4 billion) of total purchases, of which 85.5% are products. In contrast, purchases from the ROI account for 6.3%, and 5.2% from the rest of the EU.

What’s been particularly challenging is the fact that prepacked food with multiple ingredients would require separate certifications and declarations, as would lorries carrying a wide range of different products.

British Flags in Windsor

The Windsor Framework

Both the UK and the EU recognised the problems the Northern Ireland Protocol had created. After further talks, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the Windsor Framework on 27th February this year – paving the way for a ‘Green Lane’ for goods destined for Northern Ireland.

The Windsor Framework is a new constitutional and legal framework designed to strike a balance between political stability and economic prosperity. The UK government says the traders will be ‘freed of unnecessary paperwork, checks and duties’ and only be required to submit ‘ordinary commercial information rather than burdensome customs bureaucracy or complex certification requirements for agrifood’. Equivalent rules apply to Northern Ireland, so businesses can also sell goods to other parts of the UK more easily. 

Previously, ‘burdensome paperwork’ amounted to 500 certificates for a single supermarket truck, while chilled meat products were banned.

Now retailers are required to display a ‘not for EU’ label, and traders will only face border checks if officials suspect criminal activity such as smuggling. Also to be scrapped is the 80-field supplementary declaration for goods after they have arrived in Northern Ireland.

The Windsor Framework provides a boost for ecommerce businesses and those without physical premises in Northern Ireland too. They were previously excluded from utilising the Trader Scheme rules granted under the Protocol – but parcels can now be sent to other businesses via the green lane, and also to consumers without ‘custom declarations, processes and costs.’

Goods destined for the EU, including the ROI, will continue to use a red lane, which means they will need to comply with the EU’s customs and veterinary checks.

Timeline for implementation

Now that the Windsor Framework has been agreed, traders can expect to start taking advantage of the green lane from September this year.

Under the Protocol, businesses could sign up to the UK Trader Scheme, which allowed them to declare that goods were not ‘at risk’ of moving onward to the EU – removing tariffs and EU Import Duties. The scheme has now been replaced by the UK Internal Market Scheme (UKIMS), providing access to the green lane when it opens. Businesses are being urged to apply for the UKIMS now, and it must be used from 30th September onwards.

From October, the Northern Ireland Retail Movement Scheme (ReMoS) will replace the current Scheme for Temporary Agrifood Movements into Northern Ireland (STAMNI). It applies UK public health and safety and consumer protection standards to goods sold in Northern Ireland – including labelling requirements.

The green lane will be fully open for business by September 2024, when paperwork requirements are further reduced. By signing up to the Trader Support Service, retailers and hauliers can access useful resources and advice about the Windsor Framework. Customs and safety and security declarations can also be completed on members’ behalf so they don’t have to access HMRC systems.

How can businesses prepare?

After more than two years of uncertainty and bureaucracy under the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Windsor Framework should bring much-needed clarity and remove the current barriers to trade. 

Signing up to the schemes mentioned above will enable you to take advantage of the green lane as soon as possible – but what other steps can you take?

With a permanent solution in place, retailers can start planning their food labelling accordingly. Thanks to the Windsor Framework, businesses don’t have to comply with EU labelling requirements for goods heading to Northern Ireland. Instead, the government is proposing a three-phased approach to labelling, starting in October this year:

Phase 1

All meat and some dairy products moving from the UK to Northern Ireland must be individually labelled. Click here for a full list.

Phase 2

All milk and dairy products moving to Northern Ireland must be individually labelled from 1st October 2024, in addition to the ones included in Phase 1. Meat and dairy products sold across the rest of the UK should also be individually labelled.

Phase 3

From 1st July 2025, composite products, fruit, vegetables and fish moving to Northern Ireland under the Retail Movement Scheme must be individually labelled. The same products sold across the rest of the UK would also require individual labelling.

There are a number of technical stipulations around labelling, as well as some exceptions. Goods sold in staff canteens, or which are shelf-stable like biscuits, don’t have to be individually labelled, although the box they came in and the retail premises will.

This is why it’s worth working with a specialist in food labelling compliance, who can help you prepare for the new regulations, and ensure you make the most of new opportunities in Northern Ireland. Smaller firms, in particular, may find it useful to use a food label checking service to help them navigate the new regulations, especially if they haven’t traded in Northern Ireland before.

To smooth the transition, the government has earmarked funding for businesses to help them meet the new labelling requirements outlined in Phase 1. More announcements on this are expected soon.

Find out about Ashbury’s compliance food and drink labelling services here.

Rebecca Kaya, Senior Regulatory Advisor

Author: Rebecca Kaya

I have dedicated over 17 years' of my career to keeping end consumers safe. As a Regulatory Specialist, I help clients to have confidence in their compliance by providing practical advice across the food chain - from the point of primary production, to final product labelling.

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