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Strict rules banning the 'wrong kind of pallet' could lead to knock-on problems here post-Brexit

Strict global rules designed to stop the spread of beetles and other pests currently govern use of pallets.

Image: Shutterstock/aSuruwataRi

A UK-WIDE SHORTAGE of the ‘right kind’ of pallet for the import and export of goods could lead to knock on effects for Irish companies in the event of a no-deal Brexit, businesses here are being told. 

A crisis meeting was held in the UK this week between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and distributors on how to keep goods on the road in the event of a no-deal Brexit at the end of this month. 

Strict globally-agreed rules known as ISPM15, designed to stop the spread of bark beetles and other insects, currently govern the use of pallets and other wood packaging worldwide.

The standard, which requires all such packaging to be heat-treated in order to eradicate pests, was introduced 15 years ago. 

At the moment the EU is treated as a single country, so packaging that does not meet the ISPM15 standard is allowed to move freely between member states. 

That would all change in the event of a no-deal, as the UK would then be treated as a third country – essentially being put on the same footing as India or China. 

“In the event of no deal, all WPM [wood packaging material] moving between the UK and the EU must meet ISPM15 international standards by undergoing heat treatment and marking,” Defra said in a notice last week.

“All WPM may be subject to official checks either upon or after entry to the EU.”

The notice was met with concern by freight and haulage operators according to The Guardian, which reported that only an estimated one third of pallets used for trade between the EU and UK complied with the standard. 

Business Insider reported that the UK government was planning emergency talks on the issue. Industry figures who spoke to the website said they were baffled as to why it took ministers so long to get to grips with the situation. 

Ireland 

Here at home, the Revenue and Customs service has been informing businesses of potential issues with mismatched pallets at a series of Brexit seminars held throughout the country in recent months.

“Capacity may be an issue if at short notice the UK is required to use ISPM15 compliant wood packaging for all their exports,” attendees were told, according to a presentation shown at the seminars.

The National Standards Authority of Ireland, which certifies pallets and other wood packaging produced in Ireland, has been aware of potential problems in the sector since last autumn and has produced a factsheet on the issue for companies here. 

Non-compliance with ISPM15 is one of the biggest reasons for sending back goods that arrive at Dublin Port, Fergal O’Byrne, head of the NSAI’s Brexit unit, explained. 

“If a product is being shipped into Ireland from China or India, when customs people open the container at the dock one of the first things they will do is look to see if the wood packaging has the ISPM15 stamp embedded on it.”

If it’s not properly certified “they seal it back up and send it back”.

The same standards will apply to UK-based exporters in the event of a no-deal. O’Byrne said Irish companies could face problems if stray, non-compliant pallets are sent back as part of a return shipment. 

“The issue is I could send a container with 20 pallets off to England but the same 20 pallets may not come back. The driver of the forklift might get them mixed up, so you might get 19 back and a stray one.

So the problem is pallets could come back that were not marked, and that would be a big concern. And of course if a load came back with 19 marked and one not marked we could see the whole load being rejected.

He said that most pallet manufacturers here are compliant with the scheme, which is implemented in Ireland by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The NSAI is advising that the UK may introduce reciprocal arrangements requiring EU exporters to ensure all wood packaging arriving from member states is compliant with the international standard. 

O’Byrne said that while a deal between the EU and UK may still be reached in the coming weeks, the agency was continuing to brief companies on what would happen in the event of a no-deal.

The NSAI has also been holding information sessions on the potential impacts of Brexit, and will hold events for the construction sector in Dublin and Cork later this month.

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