Date: 25.02.2021

EU border friction easing, but issues remain

Importers and exporters are gradually adapting to the new processes triggered by the move to a 3rd country trading regime with the EU and the paperwork that has ensued. But a serious lack of customs clearance capacity in the UK will continue to impede cross-Channel trade for the unprepared.

Initial issues surrounding the new processes – particularly for exports to the EU – were not helped by IT issues at mainland customs authorities and ports, while in the UK, obtaining authorisation to depart, via an inland facility like Ashford, was extremely difficult, with delays and confusion surrounding documentation and driver COVID tests. There are still some problems of this kind, with a few drivers being turned back, but it’s becoming less common as experience grows and systems and processes are fettled and improved.

Six weeks on and border flows are much better, although some delays related to the new processes remain and the enormous lack of customs clearance capacity, within the customs clearance field, is a significant issue for exporters that have not already appointed customs brokers.

Expertise is in short supply and many brokers like Metro have had to carefully consider taking on new business, until existing customers’ requirements can be satisfied effectively.

UK freight associations including the British International Freight Association (BIFA), Logistics UK (formerly Freight Transport Association) and Road Haulage Association (RHA) warned there would be a shortage of customs clearance capacity to deal with the expected increase in customs requirements and the UK government estimated that an extra 50,000 customs staff would be needed. There is, and continues to be, a significant shortfall on this needed number.

Metro have recruited a significant number of new colleagues, both in the UK and at our overseas BPO operations, to undertake manual customs entries and submit to the UK and EU customs authorities. We have been preparing and investing for a number of years in the build up to the full Brexit withdrawal in anticipation of the changing landscape. 

In addition, and our prime focus, has been the development of our CuDoS solution which digitally automates customs submissions and is operating exceptionally efficiently and effectively for clients that have chosen this solution.

BIFA and others also warned that there remained a lack of preparedness by some shippers and that many had continued to “believe that the UK-EU trade deal would keep the borders in the same state as 2020, whilst forwarders continually warned entries would be needed”. This is without the consideration of the origin rules protocol in relation to goods which seemed to take the industry off guard and has impacted on trade with Europe in its own right, with additional costs incurred.

We have been busy processing imports and raising documentation for exports to the EU since the end of the transition period and our brokerage team are even more familiar now with the evolving customs clearance system; but volumes are steadily increasing and shippers are finding out just what the new procedures demand and, as a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce found, many of them simply aren’t prepared.

The survey of a 1,000 mainly SME firms found that 30% of respondents reported  difficulties adapting to changes to moving or trading goods in January, while just 10% said they had found adapting to the changes easy.

The percentage facing difficulties in adapting to changes in trading goods rose to 49% for exporters and 51% for manufacturers. Not good statistics to review, although, this will continue to decline in coming months. However consideration needs to be given carefully to the second ‘big bang’ at the end of June this year when the current transitional period expires and there is a tightening of regulations by both the UK and EU authorities. Please contact us for further details as we expect that this will cause further disruption if business are not prepared – this will be very significant!

Metro are monitoring the cross-channel situation continuously and continue to submit customs transactions through our CuDoS system, which is optimised to match the regimes on both side of the Channel.

We continue to invest in the development of our digital platforms and new personnel, to ensure we deliver reliable solutions to our customers. We are constantly reviewing, adapting and innovating our offering, to ensure we are at the leading edge of our customers trading ability with the EU, and in markets beyond, as new trade deals are struck globally by HMG. Which has been one of the main objectives of the European Union exit cited by The UK Government.

The situation is fluid and we remain close to emerging developments, to share critical information and the solutions we have in place to ensure delays are avoided or reduced.

Please contact Andrew White, leading our customs and brokerage business unit, for further information and assistance.