Late on Tuesday Le Port de Calais issued a little notice: “From midnight on 29/3, for rapid disembarkment HGV drivers will need to have prenotified the following documents – CMR (International Consignment Note) and MRN (Master Reference Number) barcode – if transporting sanitary (animal products) or phytosanitary (plant products) goods.” Some people far from the agri-food industry may overlook the fact that virtually all HGVs carry phytosanitary goods in the form of wooden pallets, so tehnically they all must prenotify.

Pallets are subject to ISPM (International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures) 15 which requires heat treatment to eradicate bark beetle and fungal infestations and stencil marking to show compliance. All pallets entering the EU must have compliance markings, but pallets moving between EU countries have been exempted. For UK-EU trade that exemption ends at midnight on the 29th. Every truck passing Newry on the AI heading towards Dundalk must have all its pallets ISPM marked before transporters even get around to figuring out tariffs.

More than three million pallets move between the UK and EU every month, but it is reckoned that less than a third of pallets circulating in the UK are ISPM-marked (ie, that they originated outside the EU). It is likely that the proportion in Northern Ireland could be considerably lower.

ISPM treatment consists of raising the core temperature of the pallet to 56 degrees Centigrade for 30 minutes. Interestingly, exclusive use of ISPM pallets is a condition of trading under WTO (World Trade Organisation) terms, but the EU has negotiated its exemption with the WTO on the basis of its own phytosanitary controls which are considered a world leader.

Use of these pallets requires careful loading so that the ISPM markings are easily inspected.