A ‘Swiss-style’ veterinary agreement would eliminate more than 80% of checks on UK agri-food goods entering the Single Market.

European Commission vice-president, Maros Sefcovic made the comments while addressing the Stormont Assembly Executive Committee during an extraordinary meeting on Monday (June 28).

He also told MLAs he was hopeful a solution could be found to the chilled meats impasse “over the next 48 hours“.

What would a Swiss-style veterinary agreement mean?

The Swiss-style veterinary agreement means fewer checks apply to goods exported to the EU from the UK, but it would mean less control over animal health matters domestically.

The agreement with Switzerland covers health and animal breeding measures applicable to trade in live animals and products of animal origin.

It governs:

  • The control of certain animal diseases and their notification;
  • Trade between Switzerland and the EU in living animals, semen, egg cells, embryos and animal products (milk and dairy products, meat and meat products);
  • The import of these animals and products from third countries animal breeding.

Shipments from non-EU countries (third countries) are inspected at Geneva and Zurich airports when they enter the Swiss-EU veterinary space and can then be moved freely.

In return, the EU Member States control shipments destined for Switzerland when they first arrive in an EU Member State (for example, at Rotterdam or Frankfurt).

However, decisions made by the EU relating to animal health and food safety directly affect Switzerland because of the agreement.

As a result, the Swiss position is communicated to the EU through working groups and in the standing committee when legislation is drafted and as scientific developments occur.

Switzerland’s scope for influence, however, is limited because it does not have voting rights on the rules.

‘Absolute minimum checks’

Sefcovic said he has had “positive feedback” from Northern Irish stakeholders over the concept.

“The Swiss-type veterinary agreement which I said, will alleviate most checks and facilitate east-west, trade flows between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I’m very well aware of the UK government’s initial concerns,” he said.

“But I remain optimistic that we can find the solution that would work for everybody.

“…We can sort out at least 80% of the checks and controls which are otherwise required by the protocol.

He added that he wanted to see the necessary checks reduced to the “absolute minimum possible”.

“A so-called ‘Swiss-style’ veterinarian agreement, the UK, continuing to apply, for example, SPS rules will do away with the vast majority of the checks in the Irish Sea and would not require checks elsewhere, say, in Northern Ireland, including for travels with pets. The New Zealand style equivalents, for example, wouldn’t do that.

“We can also have a temporary agreement in addition to my initial proposal until the UK chooses to opt for different SPS standards – for example, if they are about to conclude a very important free trade agreement with another partner,” Sefcovic added.