Thursday, August 27, 2020

As EU Talks End in Disarray UK Freight Forwarders Consider the Future

Government Must Take Heed of the Views of the Logistics Industry
Shipping News Feature

GERMANY – UK – EUROPE – Last month Germany, which currently holds the rolling presidency of the EU, called on London to be 'more realistic' in the talks to make a clean Brexit break. Now it seems its frustration has come to a head as it cancelled a meeting next week saying the summer had been completely wasted with no tangible progress on key matters.

The meeting of ambassadors, scheduled for 2 September means further delays as Brussels continues to insist the UK changes its position on state aid, which would mean certain products and services being publicly subsidised, workers and consumer rights, environmental standards, and of course fisheries policy, something dear to the hearts of such as the French, Spanish and British alike.

It seems this latest move would indicate that Germany at least has decided Britain is likely to forgo free trade and accept a no deal situation rather than allow Brussels to have any substantial influence on UK affairs. So, as such a scenario seems ever more likely, with time to ratify any deal rapidly running out, the British International Freight Association (BIFA) is again surveying its members on the preparedness of the freight forwarding industry.

The key date is of course the 31 December 2020 when the Transition Period ends, but any formal agreements need to put before Parliament well before then and, the current research is a bid to establish and transmit the views of the logistics sector, particularly after the recent publication of both the Border Operating Model and Moving Goods Under the Northern Ireland Protocol. Director General, Robert Keen takes up the story:

“One of trade association's main roles is member engagement, ensuring that members are kept informed of important developments, and also that their views are provided to government, regulators, and others. BIFA is being asked questions from a variety of government departments and agencies, as well as a House of Commons Select Committee, and the results of the survey will further inform our responses to those enquiries.”

The latest set of questions include issues such as staffing, whether more information on future systems and procedures is required by the trade association's members, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on members' preparedness. BIFA noted that in the May survey they conducted that the majority of respondents believed that an extension to the transition period was desirable if no trade deal is agreed by December 31st 2020 and future UK trade with the EU is conducted on WTO lines. Keen continues:

“BIFA saw that as a clear message to government that BIFA members and the clients that they serve had great reservations over whether they would have the capacity to handle the major changes to the UK’s trading relationship at the start of 2021, such as new customs documentation and procedures.

“The latest survey reconsiders that issue and also asks whether BIFA members need greater clarity on government plans for the UK’s borders; and whether the recent publication of both the Border Operating Model and Moving Goods Under the Northern Ireland Protocol have assisted members' understanding of procedures regarding imports and exports between the EU and UK, and GB and Northern Ireland, respectively.”

“Obviously, the biggest possible response to this survey will increase its credibility with government and we are urging our members to take the time to complete the survey, which must be done before September 9th.”

Photo: View from a ferry entering Portsmouth Harbour.