At this time of year, Juan Colomina is preparing for the start of the harvest of thousands of tonnes of fruit and vegetables grown under plastic in southern Spain and exported to the world.
However, this year he has an added complication – trying to work out which forms are needed to get crops of fresh produce like lettuce and tomatoes through French and British customs in the event that Britain leaves the European Union without a withdrawal agreement.
“Our peak season starts now,” said Colomina, head of Coexphal, an association representing more than 9,000 farmers in Almeria, southern Spain, who send dozens of trucks daily to Britain laden with everything from broccoli to watermelons. “We don’t know exactly what kind of documentation we’ll need until we know what kind of Brexit will happen.”
With just three weeks before Britain is due to leave the world’s biggest trading bloc, it is still unclear on what terms it will leave or indeed whether it will become the first sovereign state to depart the European project. It’s a big unknown causing headaches in farms across Spain, Britain’s biggest foreign supplier of fruit and vegetables.
Smooth passage of goods
Growers and exporters will have to prepare paperwork to present at borders to smooth the passage of trucks and prevent delays that could turn perishable loads to garbage.
“I can’t believe administrations will be so blundering as to say it’s all change from one day to the next because no-one is prepared,” said Francisco Sanchez, manager of growers’ association Onubafruit which represents over 1,000 farmers. Nearly a third of Onubafruit’s production -mostly strawberries, raspberries and blueberries- is exported to Britain, selling to supermarket groups like market leader Tesco and No. 2 Sainsbury’s.
Both growers and supermarkets fear a change in status of Britain overnight from EU member to default terms of the World Trade Organization (WTO) could lead to huge queues at French ports with delays and millions of euros in losses.