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International hauliers are breathing a sigh of relief after the government was forced to delay the introduction of border checks on imports until October.

With many of the key border control posts little more than holes in the ground and with mounting compliance pressure created by pandemic lockdowns and regulations across different European countries, cabinet office minister Michael Gove told the House of Commons it was introducing a “revised timetable” for controls.

Gove said: “Thanks to the hard work of traders and hauliers, we have not seen anything like the generalised disruption at our ports which many predicted, and supply chains have shown themselves to be robust.

“However, the government recognises the scale and significance of the challenges businesses have been facing in adjusting to the new requirements, at the same time as dealing with the impacts of Covid.”

The changes mean that sanitary and phytosanitary checks on products of animal origin, as well as full customs declarations at the point of importation for goods coming from the EU will now be postponed by six to nine months.

Sarah Laouadi, European policy manager at Logistics UK, said the delays eased the administrative burden on hauliers currently navigating Covid-related lockdowns: “By moving the deadline for the introduction of extra import formalities on goods coming to the UK, the government is providing more time for businesses and authorities to adapt to the upcoming extra requirements. For example by training staff, designing robust business processes to interact with new IT systems and agreeing a new allocation of roles and responsibilities with their supply chain partners,” she said.

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The RHA said the postponement bought valuable time for hauliers and traders, but it also warned that it might still not be long enough.

Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive, said: “Mr Gove’s announcement will, of course, lessen the headache for many international hauliers, still reeling for the tidal wave of additional red tape that has beset them since the transition period ended on 31 December 2020.

“However, it is not a universal fix: we cannot be confident that operators will even be ready at the end of the extension period on 1 October.

“The number of skilled customs agents and veterinarians in place across the EU to complete the relevant documentation still falls far short of what’s needed.”

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that without the delay there might have been empty shelves for some products and said that the six-month easement came “in the nick of time”.

Andrew Opie, BRC director of food and sustainability, added: “Until the infrastructure is in place, with IT systems ready and established processes for checks and paperwork, it would be foolhardy to introduce full requirements for EHC (export health certificate) documentation, pre-notification of imports, physical checks and more.”