The United States of America and the United Kingdom have been the strongest of allies for over 100 years. Because of this tried and true relationship, import-export between the two countries is generally mutually favorable. Even with uncertainties surrounding Brexit, gestures between the two countries have been made to ensure maintaining a good working relationship with or without the European Union.
Still, all of the imminent changes could make the already complicated import/export process much more complex, at least for the immediate future. Yet as of now, the United Kingdom is the 7th largest supplier of imported goods to the US.
The Basics of Importing Food to the United States
The import of food and beverages into the United States is heavily regulated and under the purview of various federal agencies. Quality control is a major impetus for all of the bureaucratic red tape. In the last few decades, intentional contamination of food for nefarious purposes has become a growing concern as well. This has led to stricter policies even for allies.
Understandably, the ease or difficulty with which you’ll be able to import something into the US depends on what, where, how, and why you are shipping it. With all these variables, it’s nearly impossible to create an all-encompassing guide. However, narrowing the field down to food and drinks makes this effort considerably more doable.
First, decide whether you’re shipping for personal use or commercial purposes. Shipping for personal use will almost always be easier (and cheaper), whereas importing for commercial purposes can be extremely lucrative despite the hassle.
Either purpose will require effective communication with the foreign vendor or manufacturer. This is key because you’ll need to have all the shipping information to complete Prior Notice on your desired product before it starts its journey.
Prior Notice is a huge component of compliance with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s import regulations. It can be especially difficult to coordinate with foreign sellers to make sure all the information required for Prior Notice is submitted properly. That said, one of the benefits of doing business with UK manufacturers is that the language barrier is largely nonexistent.
Importing Food from the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom hasn’t traditionally been renowned for its culinary offerings. However, in recent years that stigma seems to be lifting as in 2017 UK food exports rose to £22 billion.
The UK is also benefiting from a worldwide rekindled interest in Gin aptly dubbed the ‘Ginaissance’. All the same, whisky remains the country’s chief food and beverage export, followed by salmon, chocolate, cheese, beer, and shellfish.
American’s spend around £2.3 billion on British goods making the United States their 3rd largest importers. The lion’s share of their trade comes from the EU, a relationship that continues to grow tenuous. As of the writing of this article, the UK and the EU have yet to reach a trade agreement.
For now, the UK is still under the jurisdiction of the EU. Trade between EU countries is streamlined. As the United States is not a part of the EU, there are additional steps that are required for import and export. Shipping some agricultural products specifically require even more licensing than usual, licenses that can be obtained from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). These licenses are on top of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) charges that must be paid even for trade with EU members.
You must also be prepared to pay duties or import taxes for each item you intend to import. Duties help to maintain trade balance and encourage the purchase of domestic products. Calculating duties is depended on a variety of factors such as weight, monetary value, country of origin, and intended purpose of use. Exemptions exist that can do away with duties entirely on imports of $2,500 or less. Although, the shipment of food can have additional taxes and tariffs. You can look up the commodity codes used to help determine duties at the UK government website.
Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), colloquially known as Mad Cow Disease, hasn’t been a big part of the public consciousness since the early 2000s. However, it was a very big deal in the 1990s, with the United Kingdom serving as the epicenter. Since 1996, there have been 231 human cases of Mad Cow across 12 countries. 178 of those cases came from the United Kingdom. The United States is already skittish about the import of raw meat with its list of regulations. It currently only allows raw meet from 33 countries worldwide; the UK not being one of them.
Post-Brexit US/UK Import/Export
Losing the economic benefits of being a member of the EU puts the UK on the bargaining backfoot in terms of trade renegotiation with nations outside of the EU, particularly China and the United States. The situation has the potential to profoundly benefit American importers. Conversely, with America smelling blood in the water, many of their trade deal conditions could be considered aggressive. This could hamper negotiations even with the UK’s diminished bargaining power. Only time will tell.
Despite the inherent intricacies of importing food, you’ll have one of the easiest times importing from the UK. As an English-speaking country, it often serves as the entry point for Americans looking to do business in the EU. Of course, the future of that relationship is currently tenuous with the impacts of Brexit looming large. At the same time, it’s unlikely that US-UK relations will sour too much. As such, taking a look at the UK serves as a good starting point for importing foods from abroad.