Birmingham Wholesale Market is the UK’s biggest mixed wholesale market where almost a hundred traders buy and sell fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and flowers from all over the world.
Some of them have been open for nearly a hundred years and they sell to customers across the Midlands and as far afield as south Wales.
Everything the market sells has a short shelf life, so there is concern among the traders about any delays at ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, as customs checks are reintroduced on goods from the EU.
The government says it is reducing tariffs to zero on 87% of all produce coming into the UK and is doing what it can to ensure there are no hold ups.
Traders there have told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up To Money about their preparations for Brexit.
‘We’re well prepared now’
Mark Tate runs George Perry Ltd, a fruit wholesaler that’s been trading in Birmingham since 1870.
“We’ve spoken to a lot of our importers, a lot of farms we deal directly with over in Spain, over in France,” he says.
“All the fresh produce, it just goes off so quick. The shelf life of the produce is two weeks from the time it’s been picked, so we need to get it all in and get it through.
“The main problem is transport. Instead of just going through Calais we’re going to have to bring it through Holland and bring it through Newcastle, Harwich, and things like that. That’s the conversation we’ve had.
“The transport companies have put things in place, the importers have put things in place, we’ve put things in place – so we’re well prepared now.”
‘We’re going to have to pass the cost on’
Peter Marshall also sells fruit and vegetables, and imports 95% of the produce he sells – mainly from Holland and Spain.
“We ordered it this morning at 8 o’clock. By 2 o’clock tomorrow morning it will be on our stand and by the evening it will be on somebody’s dinner plate,” he says.
He is worried about the extra costs that he might have to pay to bring goods in quickly.
“I dread to think,” he says. “We’re going to have to pass the cost on. Your profit margin is suddenly going.
“I don’t think we can afford to come out with a no-deal.”
He adds: “You cannot have mushrooms in a fridge much longer than three days otherwise the go very soft and they blow and they’re worthless.
“So with extra paperwork, extra queues at Dover, unfortunately then the produce would not come into the country in a fit state.
“We’ve had to get paperwork to import produce from Spain and Holland in case there is a no-deal. We’ve all got that in place, we’re just obviously still up in the air… we don’t know what’s going on.”
‘Everyone’s shooting in the dark’
Les Clark from Birmingham Egg says he’s not worried about tariffs, but prices might still go up. He sells eggs and chicken.
“Everything you see around us is a UK product so generally that won’t effect it as in supply,” he says. “Obviously if there’s no imported chicken coming into the country that will affect the price and that will take the price up.”
This morning he’s had a checklist from one of his suppliers in Holland – going through what he needs to do to trade if there’s a no-deal.
It asked him if he was ready to pay tariffs and whether he can use “transitional simplified procedures”.
“I’m not quite sure what they are to be honest – we’ve never used them before. Everybody’s really shooting in the dark at the moment.”
According to the government’s Brexit advice, transitional simplified procedures will let companies bring goods into the country and complete their customs declarations after they’ve been delivered, to try and keep certain goods moving freely.
Mr Clark says Brexit would be “a small thing” compared to the salmonella crisis in the 1980s, when a scare over the presence of salmonella in eggs caused a dramatic collapse in sales of eggs.
“If we can get through that, we can get through a small thing like Brexit,” he says.
“Generally what happens when there’s a problem in the market is you get a short-term spike then in two or three weeks… it all gets sorted out.”
‘Hopefully we can get prices down’
Steven Waters at J Vickerstaff & Co says “virtually nothing” in his range of fish will be affected by Brexit.
“It’s far more a global product than a European thing,” he says, before pointing out different fish and where they come from.
“New Zealand, South America, Argentina, Morocco, South Africa, Indonesia, Iceland, India, China, St Helena.
“The finest bounties of the ocean make their way to Birmingham… oh and I forgot Uruguay.”
He says when we leave the EU new trading relationships are a priority.
“Long-term I would certainly hope we can arrange trade deals to suit our economy, rather than trade deals being put in place to suit the European economy as a whole.
“To benefit the end user, which is obviously the Great British public. Hopefully we can get prices down for them.”
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