At the Channel Tunnel
From our regional correspondent
Blue gloves, black mask and fluorescent orange vest stamped “Sivep”, Aurélien and Guillaume, with Florent who came to lend a hand to his two colleagues, unload 40 raspberry plants from Sussex, on the site of the Channel Tunnel. Objective of the maneuver? Check the conformity of these plants, “For example check that they are not infected by a harmful organism, such as Thrips palmi or nematodes”, before letting the Polish truck continue on its way. These inspectors work for Sivep, the Veterinary and Phytosanitary Border Inspection Service, attached to the Directorate General for Food (DGAL).
For forty-seven years, goods from the UK crossed the Channel unchecked, but Brexit was a game-changer. Live animals, products of animal origin and certain plants are, as in any third country, subject to veterinary control at the border control post before entering the territory of the European Union. “We protect consumers, animals and the environment at the same time”, summarizes Julien Desatis, deputy head of department of Sivep de Calais-Boulogne, created in March 2019.
If the verifications really started on 1er January 2021, the French and European border control services began their reorganization at the end of 2018: most of the inspectors were recruited locally, they underwent theoretical and practical training, immersed in another post of existing control. “On the other hand, for lack of French candidates, we have recruited the majority of our 22 veterinarians in other countries of the European Union, in particular Spain, and we continue to recruit”, specifies Julien Desatis.
The Calais-Boulogne Sivep mainly checks products of animal origin (85%), then live animals (11%), plants (3%) and animal feed (1%). “At the moment, we control a lot of sheep meat, and for live animals we have approval for horses”, indicates Sébastien Orient, head of phytosanitary unit. The service operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and employs 190 agents at its three sites: the port of Calais, the tunnel and the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, where fishing products are exclusively checked. It is the most important Sivep on the Channel-North Sea coast, it represents 83% of controls, far ahead of Dunkirk, Caen-Ouistreham, Roscoff, Saint-Malo, Cherbourg, Le Havre and Dieppe. A little less than 45% of the products checked on these “Brexit” sites are destined for France, the rest going to another EU member state.
The physical checks of Sivep, carried out randomly, take place after two other verifications, documentary and identity. A few minutes earlier, an inspector had just checked the seal of a truck carrying 28 pallets of eggs. “The transit may only take half an hour or an hour”, explains François, registered customs representative (RDE), in charge of customs formalities for goods.
It also depends on the administrative work done upstream: “We first showed pedagogy and flexibility because importers did not always anticipate the formalities and some drivers found themselves stuck, says Julien Desatis. On the British side, it was also necessary to adapt to provide the CHED, the common health entry document. But the initial hesitation has passed. “ In six months, out of some 44,000 lots checked, nearly 500 consignments (1.33% of the total) could not be admitted to European territory, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
The service is now running smoothly and the new Sivep teams are proud to have succeeded in absorbing a constantly increasing flow since January: “Currently, we check an average of 2,300 shipments per week and this number should continue to grow without it being possible to predict in what proportions”, believes Julien Desatis. For the first time last May, Brexit activity exceeded half of Sivep’s total activity nationally, all checkpoints combined (Calais-Boulogne, Marseille, Roissy, etc.).