WAGENINGEN (Reuters) - No-deal Brexit preparations were largely put on hold in the Netherlands this week but a group of veterinarians from across Europe remained hard at work in a classroom, with just six months to learn advanced Dutch.
The Netherlands, home to Europe’s largest port and third-largest airport, is a gateway for trade between the European Union and Britain. In the event that Britain leaves the bloc without a deal in place to smooth disruption, British goods including live animals will be subject to a tougher “third country” inspection regime for non-EU countries.
Dutch authorities are preparing for a no-deal scenario in which about 3,500 annual consignments of live animals to and from Britain will require more stringent checks. To handle the increased flow at ports, airports and abattoirs, they are recruiting roughly 900 customs inspectors, including 100 vets, who will have to speak the native tongue.
“They are scarce and finding 100 is quite a tough job,” said Peter Verbaas, head of Brexit preparations at the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). “So we started in time. We were already aware from the beginning that it is impossible to find them within the Netherlands.”
The EU this week granted Britain a three-month extension to the date of its departure from the trading bloc, to Jan. 31, before which Britons will vote in an election on Dec. 12.
The delay is a reprieve for the agency as it scrambles to prepare the vets, of which there is also a shortage in Britain.
Bilateral trade between the Netherlands and Britain reached roughly 66 billion euros ($74 billion) last year. While shipments of live animals requiring veterinary inspections made up just a fraction of that, at 80 million euros, there will be a new layer of inspections and bureaucracy.
The Dutch, already facing an acute shortage of commercial veterinarians, found candidates across eastern and southern Europe willing to take on the additional language challenge. They came from Greece, Italy, Portugal, Poland and Romania, among others.
The last group of 23 has just begun a year-long, full-time training course at the agency’s countryside office.
“After my graduation, that was six months ago, I tried to find a job in another country because I wanted to move,” said Italian Susanna Blattner, 26. “I found this opportunity where I can speak English and also I am learning Dutch. And I never thought (I would) learn Dutch.”
After learning professional-level Dutch, they will undergo specialist job training. Dozens from the earlier groups have graduated and are already on the job, or doing internships.
Polish vet Adam Fafara, 43, moved to England 13 years ago and had been working for the government while raising three sons with his wife. The whole family has now moved to the Netherlands and is enjoying the change.
Fafara said Brexit had partly motivated their decision to move, adding: “The whole situation in England isn’t as good as when we came.” After a few weeks of Dutch instruction he has picked up basic conversational skills.
“It is quite a difficult language, for sure ... We learn six hours per day, five days a week,” he said. “For the veterinary science we had six years, for Dutch we’ve got half a year.”
Brexit will also have serious implications for the Dutch economy, which is sensitive to international trade flows. The Dutch government’s Economic Policy Analysis agency has estimated that national output will be hit by 1.2% by 2030.
The NVWA and the Port of Rotterdam, a main transit point for UK-EU trade, were advised this week by the Economic Affairs Ministry to put their Brexit playbooks on hold while Britain votes in an election that could end years of political deadlock.
But in the meantime, Fafara is glad to have secured a job within the European Union. “Ik ben een dierenarts,” or “I am a veterinarian”, he said in perfect Dutch.
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Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Bart Meijer; Editing by Catherine Evans