Friday, September 17, 2021

UK Government Prevarication Over Brexit Timetable Changes Riles Freight Forwarders

Clear Workable Agenda Covering All Points Needed Urgently
Shipping News Feature

UK – Somebody at the British International Freight Association (BIFA) had their crystal ball out when they arranged a webinar 'EU exit - unfinished business' for this week, coming as it did less than 24 hours after the UK government announced its latest round of delays to its timetable for control of goods, specifically those in the agri-food sector, being imported from the EU to the UK.

With several speakers from HMRC present to contribute to the debate the 300+ participants, all BIFA members, had a raft of generally unrelated tricky questions for the customs officials, which meant they had to defer comment until they had investigated them all.

The government announcement meant the requirements for pre-notification of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) goods has been deferred from 1 October until 1 January 2022. Meanwhile the new for Export Health Certificates, Phytosanitary Certificates, physical checks on SPS goods at Border Control Posts and Safety and Security declarations on imports will all now be required as of 1 July 2022. Full customs declarations and controls will be introduced on 1 January 2022 as previously announced.

The freight forwarders who made up the bulk of the audience were more interested in what was not announced, rather than what was. The ending of the CHIEF system, with delayed declarations ending in three months, whilst the whole system proper will turn off for import goods in September next year and for exports in March 2023 has caused some concerns.

The discussion again revealed a lack of comprehension by the officials on certain points which, whilst appearing minor perhaps to them, are of paramount importance to such as a driver trying to reach home on a winter’s night and delayed by the lack of full declarations for the handful of empty pallets remaining on his truck.

The authorities are at least starting to understand a little more of the complexities of life after leaving the EU. BIFA, and the other industry lobby groups will doubtless continue in their education. Announcing the further delays to instituting all the procedures, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, Lord Frost, said:

“We want businesses to focus on their recovery from the pandemic rather than have to deal with new requirements at the border, which is why we’ve set out a pragmatic new timetable for introducing full border controls. Businesses will now have more time to prepare for these controls which will be phased in throughout 2022. The government remains on track to deliver the new systems, infrastructure and resourcing required.”

Another party interested in what lies ahead is Logistics UK who issued a statement after the announcement that the introduction of health certification of imported products of animal origin (which include many food and drink items) has been pushed back from 1 October 2021 to July 2022, with Sarah Laouadi, Head of International Policy, saying:

“The government has rightly identified some of the challenges currently facing the logistics industry, from the lasting impact of the pandemic to increasing maritime transport costs. These, as well as the driver shortage, require vigorous and urgent attention. However, this second change of plan for import controls will add to the uncertainty and creates extra re-adjustment costs for the logistics industry.

”While there is relief in some quarters at the provision of additional time to prepare for new border processes, another deferment will cause instability for businesses already stretched by the impact of Covid-19. It also penalises those companies that invested time and money to progress their readiness journey as much as possible; these businesses now need the Government to confirm the last details about border facilities and systems to be able to complete the crucial ‘last mile’ of their journey.

“What our industry needs from government is a guarantee that this new timetable will be adhered to, and that the border control posts required for physical checks that have just been postponed to July 2022 will be in place, with sufficient resources and political commitment to make it credible. The UK’s supply chain with the EU is highly interconnected but it will be impossible to convince our European supply chain partners to do their part if the target they are aiming for is constantly changing.”

So the message to government is clear, don’t set targets you cannot hit and provide UK businesses with workable systems and timetables plus the certainties needed in order to map out the new supply chains which are required.

Photo: Cargo or not? Mixed messages over the status of packing materials could cause havoc for drivers.