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In recent times, when we in the international meat trade hear the word "simplification", it is with a sinking heart.

It sounds such a promising word, evoking the idea of reduced time and cost savings. But think again!

In the past few months, the import trade has been going through another of these "simplifications". In this one, Customs announced that products would no longer be cleared through a Customs post at individual ports where the meat arrives, but through a centralised hub in Manchester and would result in efficiencies and a service at least as good as before. Oh dear!

The problem is that such changes are usually discussed within Customs and agreed before the trade has had the opportunity to comment. On this occasion, Customs processing units at a couple of ports, which did not handle meat, had already migrated to Manchester - apparently smoothly. Tilbury, the largest port for meat imports was to follow, when the question of veterinary checks arose. How were Customs to be notified about the result of the checks?

There followed weeks of discussion on a system to avoid faxing piles of papers up to Manchester to match up with piles of paper that had already arrived. The migration of Tilbury was postponed and then, when it did happen, several weeks followed when clearances were delayed. These events involved added costs and put at risk customer relations. Customers want the meat delivered on time and are not interested in the delights of Customs procedures.

Further migrations of Customs clearance posts have been put on hold until all are confident that the system can handle it. All we in the trade ask is that when government or others seek to change systems, please consult us early on in the process.

Liz Murphy

International Meat Trade Association

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