Increased costs and restrictions on the UK horticulture industry to export to the EU have seen a marked drop in the value of trade in the first six months of the year, demonstrating a missed opportunity for the sector to grow its contribution to UK ‘green trade’. 

Research conducted by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) shows that exports of live plants and plant materials* from the UK to the EU between January and June this year were valued at £9.7m, compared with £16m in the same period of 2019 – a decrease of 39%. Rest of the world sales have remained broadly static. This, says the HTA, shows that the although the EU is still the largest market for British horticultural products, the industry is not growing as it could. Extra new administrative costs and restrictions are resulting in British horticulture businesses choosing not to pursue markets in the EU. 

“We had long suspected that this heavy-handed regime would put too many barriers in the way of those who had hoped to grow a customer base in Europe. Much of the £24bn horticulture industry is made up of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) who want to champion ‘green trade’ and export the hugely iconic British plants, seeds and trees we produce here. However, the bureaucratic obstacles and huge costs are making it business-sapping and unviable. This is preventing SMEs to grow and lead a post-Brexit trade renaissance,” said James Clark, Director of Policy and Communications at the HTA. 

First-hand experiences of HTA members tell a story of businesses frustrated by problems transporting their live plants combined with the additional costs and complexity of inspections and necessary paperwork. These factors combined mean that it simply isn’t viable for many to trade with customers on the continent. 

David Millais, who runs Millais Nurseries near Farnham in Surrey, said: “Before Brexit, we exported 5-10% of our production to botanic gardens and specialist plant centres, and to many repeat retail customers, who bought directly from our website. We redesigned our website to enable us to capitalise on this market and grew this part of the business by 20%. Brexit has completely stopped this. The disproportionate inspection and freight charges now mean there is no point in attempting to send small orders to Europe because the costs make exports unviable for all concerned.” 

David Fryer, Head of Technical at seed company Mr Fothergill’s of Newmarket, explains the situation: “We’re having to spend so much time navigating the cost of inspections and certificates, the cost of planning and management and the risk of consignment delays or rejections, plus limitations on what we can export now and reduced customer confidence means that we are unable to focus on growth in the EU while we manage these new ways of working.” 

The HTA’s ‘Let Britain Grow’ campaign calls on the Government to review existing inspection levels and costs and negotiate a plant health agreement between the UK and the EU. This will enable the multi-billion pound sector to boost the nation’s economic growth and fuel international trade post-Brexit.  

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