Why wooden pallets and packaging are essential to smooth trade with Europe

Wooden pallets still have a robust future despite Brexit, says John Dye at the Timber Packaging & Pallet Confederation.

In the few weeks left until Brexit, import and export businesses in the UK and Europe are rightly focused on ensuring trade between the UK and Europe continues to flow smoothly when the UK makes its final exit from the EU on 31 December.

Among the points they are considering are logistics-based issues around the movement of goods from the UK to the EU, and vice versa, including the continued supply of wooden packaging and pallets.

On the 1 January 2021, it will become a legal requirement for wood packaging and pallets moving in both directions between the UK and the EU to be compliant with International Standard for Phytosanitary measures no.15 (ISPM15).

This, in theory, could lead to the introduction of inspection regimes at UK-EU borders that could slow the movement of goods. On this subject, there has recently been unhelpful disinformation by manufacturers of pallets and packaging made from other materials circulating in the marketplace. However, with wood the material of choice for most transit packaging – including approximately 90 per cent of pallets – and accordingly an essential part in supply chains, it is important that everyone in the supply chain understands what is really going on.

The Timber Packaging & Pallet Confederation (Timcon) believe there remains no scientific or fact-based rationale to justify any change in enforcement applied – because there will be no difference to the negligible plant health risk posed these movements after Brexit. Our view is shared by organisations throughout Europe, including Logistics UK (formerly the Freight Transport Association), National Association of Pallet Distributors, the European Federation of Wooden Pallet and Packaging Manufacturers, and the Closed Pallet Pooling Coalition, representing Chep, LPR and IPP).

Accordingly, we have advocated taking an aligned and risk-based approach to inspections at customs EU member states, that mirrors the pragmatic ISPM15 procedures currently in place, and also supported by UK government – detailed in our position statement issued jointly with Defra during August.

The evidence suggests this is how enforcement will continue after the conclusion of Brexit and we have worked closely with our colleagues in Europe to address the situation from a position of unity.

At the same time, while Brexit negotiations have continued, we have in parallel been working with the UK government and supply chains, to ensure that there are stocks of fully ISPM15-compliant pallets and packaging available from deadline day. This has included giving advice to the industry on increasing ISPM15 capacity and, most recently, the announcement that ISPM15 components will be permitted (on a temporary basis) for the repairs, without the need to re-heat-treat the entire packaging or pallet – which in turn frees up treatment capacity in kilns.

The Timber Packaging & Pallet Confederation is running a monthly survey, the latest of which showed almost three quarters of our members are confident that they will be able meet increased demands, while the upshot of the above work is that we are moving closer still to our compliance targets for the end of the year.

In the lead up to Brexit, MPs have shown increasing understanding of the importance to UK-European trade of wooden packaging and pallets being able to move unrestricted. This developed further during the Covid 19 lockdown, when the industry was recognised in both the UK and EU as key sector, which supports the delivery of food, medicines and other essential goods to retailers – and as such, a sector that needs to operate unimpeded.

But wooden packaging and pallets are not only essential, they also have unrivalled environmental and hygiene credentials. They are recognised as one of the best examples of a circular economy; storing carbon during a lifespan that is extended by repair and reuse and ultimately recycled. And on top of this: they remain the most economic option.

The timber packaging and pallet business is a fundamental and well-established building block for a successful economy. Supporting it is in everybody’s interest.

John Dye is president of the Timber Packaging & Pallet Confederation

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