The food and drink industry, and working with the EU

read time: 4 mins

With a deal being reached at the tail-end of December, the way ahead has begun to clear somewhat for the Food and Drink Industry. Some of the most important points for change are discussed below.

More generally, it’s also important to reconsider each step of your supply chain, both the actuality and the legal contracts comprised in it, to minimise any business interruption.

While this article covers UK law, Ashfords is a founding member of the Advoc network and we can help make the necessary enquiries if you have any queries about international requirements.

Importing into the UK

EORI numbers

EU companies moving goods into England, Wales or Scotland will now need to be more aware of their requirements and responsibilities. In particular, they will need to register for an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (‘EORI’) number – any EORI numbers beginning with GB will need to be replaced, and an EORI number starting XI may be needed for moving goods to/from Northern Ireland.

Licence requirements – domestic and foreign

You will need to ensure you have the correct licences for export from the home country and for import into the UK for certain categories of goods – commonly affected goods in the UK’s regime include plants, high risk food, drugs, or hazardous chemicals. A full list of categories for the UK can be found here.

Customs declarations and transfers

You will also need to provide for customs declarations and transfers – the government provides a list of customs agents and fast parcel operators who can help. In some situations, someone can also act for you in the import process indirectly, at which point they become equally responsible for providing accurate information, customs duty and import VAT. However, any agent you do hire will need to be based in the UK.

Product markings

There have been some key changes in the product marking system and the CE system generally, which is being replaced in the UK by the UK or UK(NI) mark. You’ll need to check any markings which were certified by EU bodies. See our article here for more information, and the government guidance on labelling and marketing requirements. There are also specific labelling and composition standards for food and drink – the government has provided some useful guidance, with further rules for organic food.


Specific points to note for exporting include:

Rules in the target country

You’ll need to be familiar with the rules, tax/duty rates and export documents required for the country into which you’re moving goods. The government has provided a useful tool to help; particular requirements will attach to items such as diamonds, plants, chemicals, drugs, weapons and waste – more information on which can be found here.

You’ll also need to ensure the entity receiving the goods has any required import declarations and licences/certificates they’ll need in the target country, and where necessary your goods list the country of origin (with further information found here).

EORI Numbers

Companies looking to export goods from Great Britain will need an EORI number starting with GB; you may also need one beginning with XI if you are moving goods to/from Northern Ireland. See the section on EORI numbers above for further information.

Export declarations

You or an agent (see above) will need to make a declaration when the goods leave the UK; any invoices, licences or certificates will need to travel with the goods, and you’ll also need to consider what documentation you need to provide when the goods reach the country of import.

Other considerations


The rules for e-commerce have changed slightly, in particular what information needs to be provided - see our article here for further details.


If you employ EU, EEA or Swiss citizens in the UK, you’ll need to be aware of the changes in rights to work. There are no significant changes for the right to work until after 30 June 2021, however this period should be seen as a chance to ensure the correct paperwork is in place ahead of time; the 30th June 2021 is also the deadline for anyone from the EEA to apply for settled status in the UK.

The UK now has its own immigration system, and employers will generally need a sponsor licence to hire workers from outside the UK; this will also apply to any foreign workers who were hired after 11pm December 31st 2020. You’ll need to consider both aspects (as well as the validity of any foreign certificates or qualifications) before hiring employees – see our article here for further details.

Data Protection

The final withdrawal agreement includes a 4 (potentially 6) month grace period for data transfers between the UK and Europe, meaning no immediate change is necessary. However, large fines can be attached to data breaches, especially as the UK and EU now have separate enforcement systems; whereas previously a single breach could be investigated by just one European Union agency, now the right (or rather, wrong) transfer could be investigated and fined by both the Information Commissioner’s Office and the relevant EU body. You can find more information and possible solutions in our article here.

Further queries

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about anything mentioned in this article, you can contact Kim Hawkins, partner in our Commercial team.

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