U.K. Starts Research on Brexit Customs System Due in Four Months

Marcin Jozwiak – Uplash

The British government has started to conduct research on its new post-Brexit customs IT system, with four months left before the service is due to go live.

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, which is in charge of handling the new customs paperwork that will apply to UK-EU trade from 2021, has invited hauliers to participate in rounds of remote-user testing in the coming months for its Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS), according to a memo to the freight forwarding industry.

The GVMS – which is set to be used to police cross-Irish Sea trade from Jan 1 2021, and then all UK-EU goods flows from July – will give freight companies a unique reference number that proves that they have filed the necessary post-Brexit paperwork, such as customs declarations.

Without a reference from the GVMS, trucks will not be allowed to cross between the UK and EU.

The fact that the GVMS is still in the research and design phase less than 90 working days before it is due to be introduced is a cause for concern in the logistics industry: one freight forwarder, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said they are worried the service won’t be completed and functional on time.

The new system will be required even if Britain and the EU sign a free-trade agreement.

And while consultation with the industry is welcome, it would have been preferable to do such research during the system design process, said Anna Jerzewska, founder of Trade and Borders, a customs and trade consultancy.

“The Government has made it clear that GVMS is unlikely to be ready for January 1 and as far as we understand there will be back-up procedures in place,” she said.

“It will be crucial to ensure that such alternatives are available in places where traffic management will be important,” she said, citing Kent and the Irish Sea.

In the memo, HMRC says it wants to start the first round of testing “ASAP” due to the shortage of time.

The tests will involve hour-long video calls where hauliers try prototypes and give feedback.

“When designing a system that the industry will be using, it is important we work in partnership with them to make sure it suits their and our needs,” HMRC said by email.

“We will continue to develop our systems in readiness for the end of the transition period and when full border controls are implemented from July 2021.”

Source: Bloomberg, article authored by Joe Mayes, 28 August 2020

Bid to Hire 50,000 Post-Brexit Customs Staff

The U.K. risks failing to recruit the 50,000 customs agents the logistics industry says are needed before Britain’s final parting with the European Union, spelling potential chaos at the country’s busiest border.

The coronavirus has hampered efforts to train staff to handle the extra paperwork firms will need to complete after the U.K. exits the EU’s customs union at the year-end, according to industry bodies involved with the process. One lobby group says its offer to help plug the shortage of recruits has met with silence from Whitehall.

Without enough agents, goods traveling to and from the EU, the U.K.’s single biggest trading partner, risk being delayed at ports, disrupting supply chains and heaping more pain on companies reeling from coronavirus. Even if the two sides strike a trade deal by December, agents will still be needed to process an additional 200 million customs declarations, according to estimates by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

“This is all blown out the water by the virus,” said Robert Keen, director-general of the British International Freight Association, which is helping to train workers to process the new paperwork with funding from a 34 million-pound ($43 million) government program. “Everybody is fighting to keep their businesses going.”

Keen’s industry group has postponed its classroom training until at least June. The number of monthly registrations for its online learning course has dropped by 80% since February.

Asked by lawmakers on April 27 how many agents have been recruited so far, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said he didn’t know.

He told members of Parliament the government had been in talks with the logistics industry about creating a training school. Such an initiative already exists — the U.K. Customs Academy was started in September with the Institute of Export. 876 courses have been initiated or completed since the academy opened, according to KGH Customs, which helps run the program.

“There is a significantly long way to go,” said Marco Forgione, director-general of the Institute for Export. According to him, the 50,000 figure is almost certainly a conservative estimate of how many agents will be needed. He is calling on the government to encourage people who have lost their jobs because of the virus to re-train as customs officials.

‘Full Stop’

In a sign of how the virus has sapped attention away from Brexit in Whitehall, the Freight Transport Association submitted a proposal to the Treasury on March 17 about how to set up a mass education program to train up agents. More than a month later, the lobby group hasn’t received a reply.

“My impression is it has come to a full stop,” said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the Road Haulage Association. He expressed surprised he hadn’t seen any job ads for customs agents.

Talks to seal a trade deal between Britain and the EU have been disrupted by the virus. The U.K. is seeking a Canada-style accord which would eliminate tariffs on goods but create new non-tariff barriers like customs declarations and rules-of-origin paperwork. Without a deal, the U.K. would trade with the EU on terms set by the World Trade Organization, meaning steep duties on products from cars to beef.

Need to Prepare

The two sides have until the end of June to extend the standstill period Britain entered after Brexit on Jan. 31 – but the government has repeatedly ruled out seeking a delay. Business groups such as BIFA and the FTA have called for an extension, arguing firms shouldn’t have to face the double whammy of higher trade costs while still recovering from the negative effects of coronavirus.

A government spokesman said thousands of agents, freight forwarders and parcel operators had used the 34 million-pound fund to improve their IT hardware and train staff.

“The U.K. has a well-established industry of customs intermediaries who serve British businesses trading outside the EU,” the spokesman added.

Even if firms are able to divert resources into training later in the year, by when the virus might have abated, companies will still need time to prepare, said Arne Mielken, founder of Customs Manager, an advisory firm for importers and exporters.

“You can’t hammer in customs knowledge overnight,” he said. “We urge companies not to neglect the fact that Brexit is still happening.”

Source: Article by Joe Mayes, Bloomberg, 4 May 2020

Brexit and Southern Africa – no trade impact envisaged

Reuters reports that Britain has agreed a deal with six southern African countries including South Africa, the continent’s most developed economy, that will ensure continuity of trade conditions after Brexit, the British High Commission in South Africa said on Wednesday. 

Political turmoil in the United Kingdom has generated uncertainty over how, when and even if the country will withdraw from the European Union. Its current exit date is set for Oct. 31. 

But while the situation has left the future trade relationship between Britain and the EU in doubt, London has been working to minimise the impact of Brexit on other trading partners.

Britain initialled an Economic Partnership Agreement with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) – comprising South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland) – and Mozambique on Tuesday. 

“This trade agreement, once it is signed and takes effect, will allow businesses to keep trading after Brexit without any additional barriers,” Britain’s International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement. 

The agreement is still subject to final checks. But once signed formally, it will mirror the trade conditions the southern African nations currently enjoy with the EU. 

Trade between Britain and the six countries was worth 9.7 billion pounds ($12 billion) last year, with machinery and motor vehicles topping British exports to the region. The UK meanwhile imported some 547 million pounds worth of edible fruit and nuts. 

Britain has already signed trade continuity agreements with countries accounting for 89 billion pounds of its external trade. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31, but parliament has passed a law compelling him to ask Brussels to delay Brexit until 2020 unless he can strike a divorce deal. Johnson says he will not request an extension.

Source: Reporting by Joe Bavier, edited by Gareth Jones, Reuters Business News, 2019.09.11.

Republic of Ireland – warns UK against using border as Brexit bargaining chip

Irish flag

Following Britain’s recent utterances that it will not rule out the possibility that the EU may retain oversight of customs controls at UK borders after it leaves the bloc, the Irish government has warned UK authorities it will not be used as a “pawn” in Brexit negotiations, reports News Letter, UK.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he does not want the issue of the Irish border to be used by the UK government as a tool to pressurise the EU for broader trade agreements.

Mr Coveney also said that sufficient progress on the future of the Irish border has not been made during Brexit talks.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire in Dublin on Tuesday Mr Coveney said: “We do not want the Irish issue, the border issue, to be used as a pawn to try to pressurise for broader trade agreements.”

He added: “Sufficient progress (on the issues facing the island of Ireland post-Brexit) hasn’t been made to date.”

He warned that in order for Brexit negotiations to move onto the next phase “measurable and real progress” is needed.

Before the meeting Mr Brokenshire insisted there was no possibility of the UK staying within a customs union post Brexit.

He said that to do so would prevent the UK from negotiating international trade deals.However, following a meeting with the Irish and British Chamber of Commerce he said there would be a period of implementation where the UK would adhere closely to the existing customs union.

“We think it is important there is an implementation period where the UK would adhere closely to the existing customs union,” said Mr Brokenshire. “But ultimately it is about the UK being able to negotiate international trade deals.

We want to harness those freedoms. If we were to remain in the customs union that would prevent us from doing so. “We are leaving EU, customs union and single market. We have set out options as to how we can achieve that frictionless trade,” he added.

However, Mr Coveney said the Irish Government believes the best way to progress “the complexity of Britain leaving the European Union is for Britain to remain very close to the single market and effectively to remain part of the customs union.”

He added: “That would certainly make the issues on the island of Ireland an awful lot easier to manage. “But of course the British Government’s stated position is not in agreement with that but that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to advocate for that.

“In the absence of that it is up to the British government to come up with flexible and imaginative solutions to actually try to deal with the specific island of Ireland issues.” Source: Newsletter.co.uk, author Mc Aleese. D, August 22, 2017.

UK’s “New Customs Partnership” – may grant Europe oversight of the Customs border

UK Brexit

Reuters reports that Britain will not rule out the possibility that the EU may retain oversight of customs controls at UK borders after it leaves the bloc, as the country seeks ways to keep unhindered access to EU markets following Brexit.

Last week, the UK published a policy document proposing two possible models for customs arrangements between Britain and the EU after withdrawal from the EU in 2019.

The first model was a “highly streamlined customs arrangement”, which involved the reintroduction of a customs border but which envisaged electronic tracking of shipments, rather than physical checks of goods and documents at the border.

An alternative proposal was the “new customs partnership”, which would remove the need for a customs border between the UK and EU altogether.

Under this model, the UK would operate as if it was still part of the bloc for customs purposes. British goods would be exported tariff-free and Britain would levy EU tariffs on goods coming into the UK for onward passage to the EU directly or as components in UK exports.

Lawyers said there would be a need for a mechanism to oversee the “new customs partnership” to ensure that the UK was correctly monitoring goods coming into the UK and destined for Europe.

The EU’s system of movement of goods across EU borders without checks works on the basis all members closely monitor shipments coming into the bloc from outside, to ensure the correct tariffs are paid and that goods meet EU standards.

The antifraud agency of the EU polices customs agencies across Europe to ensure that they are correctly monitoring imports. Source: Reuters, Bergin T, August 21, 2017