Freight bodies welcome new Brexit security waiver 

Freight and logistics representatives have broadly welcomed the announcement this week by the UK government to have a six-month phasing in of the pre-arrival forms known as Entry Summary Declarations for goods imported from the EU in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Currently, Entry Summary Declarations are not required when importing goods from the EU, although they had been expected to be required in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement – as they are already required for imports from the rest of the world. But officials this week held a series of meetings with organisations that represent the road haulage industry and handle a significant portion of the UK’s cross border trade, to confirm that from 29 March “the status quo will be temporarily maintained as they will not need to submit Entry Summary Declarations on imports for a period of six months”.

The measure is designed to give business more time to prepare for changes to EU-UK trade arrangements in the event that the UK leaves without a deal, the government said, adding: “This builds on the plans that Transitional Simplified Procedures (TSP) can be used for at least 15 months for customs declarations.”

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mel Stride MP said: “We’ve listened to businesses and are responding to their concerns. We have been adamant that in the event of no deal, trade must continue at our borders, and we will continue to make our borders secure.

“Maintaining continuity with the current system for the first six months and phasing Entry Summary Declarations in will ensure we deliver on that promise. The new rules only apply to goods coming from the EU, and will maintain the status quo for carriers.

“Importers will still be required to submit import declarations for customs purposes – which are not the same as Entry Summary Declarations. HMRC announced ways of making these import declarations easier, through Transitional Simplified Procedures, on 4 February 2019.”

After the six-month transitional period, carriers will be legally responsible for ensuring Entry Summary Declarations are submitted pre-arrival to HMRC at the time specified by mode of transport, Stride said, adding: “The measure will not change the UK’s commitment to ensuring our borders remain secure in the event of a no deal, and Border Force will continue to carry out intelligence-led checks. A Readiness Task Force in preparation for EU Exit is being recruited and Border Force is on track to increase staff headcount by 900 at the end of March 2019.”

The UK’s approach to dangerous goods coming into the UK is not affected, the government stressed, noting that the briefings this week were “the latest stage in HMRC’s co-ordinated efforts to make sure traders are prepared for all Brexit outcomes”.

Pauline Bastidon, head of global and European policy at the Freight Transport Association, said HMRC’s announcement “on the temporary waiver of security and safety declarations for post-Brexit logistics movements is a great response to FTA’s campaigning over the past two years, and a positive step towards minimizing disruptions on trade between the UK and EU and integrated supply chains after Brexit”. 

She added: “However, it is imperative that the UK government maintains pressure on the EU to ensure that a similar waiver is adopted by the EU. To ensure that Britain can keep trading efficiently, it is vital that the European Commission and UK agree a longer term, more sustainable arrangement to remain in the same security zone, which would make safety and security declarations for UK-EU trade irrelevant. 

“Above all, it is vital that the UK’s supply chain remains as frictionless as possible – British business needs to be confident that goods and materials will continue to transit the nation’s borders as swiftly and efficiently as possible.”

The UK’s Road Haulage Association also welcomed HMRC’s announcement “of a short-term, six-month suspension of the introduction of safety and security declarations to allow operators and traders to focus on the many other unresolved border issues post Brexit”.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett commented: “It is clear that government has listened to us. We have been insistent that the proposal to introduce consignment-level Safety and Security Declarations for imported road haulage would be impossible to introduce by 29 March.

“The extension will help, but it still isn’t enough; there is no guarantee that businesses will have the necessary processes in place in six months’ time. It’s just a stay of execution; we need practical simplification of the system to ensure that it works for everyone and we will continue to push for this.

“However, the issue of goods leaving the UK and entering the EU by road remains. As things stand, the demand will also be for consignment-level declarations for these road-based movements.”

The RHA said it also “continues to call for massive simplification of the declarations after the six-month suspension. Government authorities will obtain the data on all shipments from other sources anyway; demanding a repeat of the same information, as currently planned, to meet unnecessary bureaucratic specifications is wrongheaded and inappropriate.”


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Eurotunnel ‘ready for 29 March’

Eurotunnel is investing heavily in ‘worst case’ Brexit preparations that are on schedule to be completed ahead of the 29 March deadline when the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, with the Channel Tunnel operator confident it has done what is needed to keep its share of UK-EU freight trade flowing.

“We’ve been contingency planning for the past two-and-a-half years − looking at ways that customers can continue to pass through the Tunnel as quickly and smoothly as possible,” Eurotunnel spokesman John Keefe told Lloyd’s Loading List in an interview. “The only real issue is the level of border control the governments will insist on (with Brexit).

“The UK government has made it clear that there won’t be more controls at the border than there are today. So we don’t foresee problems for goods coming into the country (UK) and there should be no need for diverting traffic or putting capacity in elsewhere as the Tunnel will be able to accommodate the projected traffic flows, whatever the time of day or the day of the week.”

Keefe said there was “a bit of a question” about what the EU will require if the UK becomes a ‘third country’ and operates under WTO regulations. The EU standard for third-country trade involves 100% controls.

“European container ports and airports are used to dealing with WTO-type shipments, but it will be new to the ‘short-stretch’ of the Dover strait,” Keefe acknowledged. “Is it going to mean that every truck has to pre-declare the goods it is carrying? It’s perhaps a moot point to ask what percentage of third country-origin goods are inspected at EU entry points today.

“We’ve been liaising with Border Force in the UK and the equivalent in France, on behalf of the EU, on how the physical checks can be accelerated given the speed of movement of the goods through the Tunnel and on the short straits in general, and the message we’re getting loud and clear from everybody is that ‘we favour flow’. The goal is to keep the traffic flowing as it is so important to the economy.”

Around 20% of Eurotunnel’s customers account for 80% of its total volumes, and Keefe expects them to be able to adapt “without blinking an eye” to whatever Brexit regime is adopted.

“These major customers are international shippers who operate around the world, so they know what trading with non-EU countries is all about. They’ll have to start classifying UK goods as ‘third country’.

“Brexit is more of a challenge to smaller and medium shippers who are mainly EU in scope and there may well be financial hits from investing in new systems, new staff who will need training.” 

As reported in Lloyd’s Loading List, the UK government this week announced new temporary customs arrangements in the event of a ‘no-deal Brexit’ that aim to provide significantly simplified arrangements for importing EU goods into the UK, some of which are specific to goods imported via ro-ro services.

Currently, under import processes for trading with the ‘rest of the world’, goods imported into the UK are not released from customs control until traders make a full import declaration and pay the duty owed in full. But HMRC has put in place ‘transitional simplified procedures’ to make it easier for traders “to import goods from the EU using roll on roll off locations like Dover or the Channel Tunnel”.

The transitional simplified procedures reduce the amount of information importers need to give in an import declaration when the goods are crossing the border, allowing traders to defer giving a full Customs declaration or paying any duty, providing companies make what is understood to be a one-time application to defer any duties payable on future shipments have a financial guarantee in place by 30 June 2019 for any duties deferred.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has given a tentative welcome to the new arrangements, which it said appeared to effectively eliminate the need for registered UK importers to make a full Customs declaration. Alex Veitch, FTA’s head of global policy, said the moves would seem to eliminate one key concern the organisation had about ro-ro traffic arriving at cross-Channel ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, greatly reducing the likelihood of major hold-ups at key port terminals in France and Belgium.

Keefe revealed that at its French terminal, Eurotunnel is spending “tens of millions” in erecting facilities for customs services − additional lanes for trucks and booths for customs staff − and also for phytosanitary inspections manned with veterinary staff, as well as a 100 truck-capacity parking area with unloading bays and storage areas.

“We’re following the French authorities’ specifications and what they’re telling us is that the provision we’re putting in place will allow post-Brexit requirements to be met and that anything taken ‘offline’ − in other words, for physical checks − will not affect the flow of goods overall We’re comfortable that we’re going to be ready for whatever comes at us on 29 March.”

Keefe underlined that countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Holland have each got “tens of billions of pounds” worth of annual trade with the UK resting on how Brexit is handled.

“They want their goods sold in the UK. They want the parts coming from the UK. So it’s in everyone’s interest that the flow is maintained. If it is slowed down there would be massive economic implications because of the way industry functions today and that’s why we’re investing in being ready for Brexit because we want freight moving through the Tunnel to be handled as efficiently as it is now. 

“Of course, the new rules will have to be applied. There’ll be more paperwork, customs declarations to be made, duties to be paid. Clearance is likely to up take more time and there’ll be more cost involved. That’s what (the UK) leaving the customs union implies. But the critical thing is keeping the trade flow going at speed.”

Keefe noted that Eurotunnel is seeing some ‘forward loading’, with shippers increasing inventory before the end of March to give them a buffer when Brexit comes in. However, the fixed-link operator has not had to increase the capacity of its truck shuttle service from its normal schedule of six hourly departures, although it can go up to eight departures per hour if required during periods of peak demand.

“There are different ways of coping with the Brexit uncertainty,” he noted. “We understand that some businesses have been stocking up and some are advancing summer maintenance programmes to April to avoid any disruption".

He added: “This tie in with firms across all sectors preparing for the worst-case (Brexit), without losing productivity, and anticipating that any no-deal disruption would only be short-lived, allowing them to move back into full-time production again after an initial period.”


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