The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is due to hold emergency talks with industry leaders on Tuesday after discovering that the UK doesn’t have enough pallets to continue exporting goods to the European Union if it leaves without a deal in three weeks.
EU regulations on third country imports stipulate that wood pallets must be heat-treated or cleaned to prevent contamination and the spread of pests, and have specific markings to confirm that they are legal in EU markets.
Pallets that British exporters are using do not conform to these rules, as EU member states follow a much more relaxed set of regulations.
EU requirements for wood packaging material are based on the 2002 FAO International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM) number 15.
ISPM 15 affects all wood packaging material (pallets, crates, dunnages, etc.) requiring that they be debarked and then heat treated or fumigated with methyl bromide and stamped or branded with a mark of compliance.
DEFRA has confirmed that the UK would not have enough EU-approved pallets for exporting to the continent if it leaves without a withdrawal agreement next month.
That means UK companies would be competing for a small number of pallets which meet EU rules, and those that miss out would be forced to wait for new pallets which could take weeks to be ready.
Industry figures said they were baffled why it took ministers so long to learn of the dearth of pallets, given that they are a basic feature of cross-border trade.
A DEFRA representative said the government would seek a reciprocal arrangement on pallets with the EU. “As part of those meetings we have discussed a range of issues relating to the import and export of our goods, including pallets. We have already committed to retaining our current pallet import approaches post-exit, and we hope the EU will confirm that it will reciprocate our commitment.”