Importers are now facing a new set of bureaucratic obstacles as the UK imposes full Brexit customs controls on imports from the EU for the first time.
Controls on exports were already introduced a year ago, but mandatory checks on imports from European countries were firstly postponed to July, and then delayed again to the beginning of 2022 as British businesses warned they were not ready.
All traders will now have to complete customs declarations at the border or before the departure of the goods, and they must prove that the goods originate from within the EU in order to qualify for tariff-free access under the TCA.The commodity code for each product being imported, along with its value are required on the import declarations. Also, any high-risk goods need licences and certificates.
Even though full veterinary and sanitary checks are not required until July 2022, the authorities will have to be informed about the incoming animal and plant origin products. This is considered to be the most disruptive change to trading conditions resulting from Brexit.
In 2020, goods and services imports from the EU totalled around Â£300bn - half of all UK imports. The government's Office for Budget Responsibility calculates that trade with the EU has already declined by around 15% since Brexit, contributing to a forecasted 4% decline in UK GDP over the term as a result of EU withdrawal.
The government declared that traders are prepared for further changes. However, a recent survey by the Institute of Directors shows that almost one-third of British companies importing goods were not prepared for the new requirements coming into force after New Year. And the logistics industry warned that even if UK businesses sort out their paperwork, they are dependent on hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized (SME) exporting businesses from across the EU.
Alex Veitch of Logistics UK, which represents hauliers, ferry companies, ports, and customs agents, told The Independent that the organisation was "cautiously optimistic" that the bulk of UK/EU trade conducted by around 10,000 large multinational firms would continue unaffected.
But he said: "There is concern that some EU exporters to this country -particularly the SME community may not be ready to do the paperwork and there may be turnbacks because of that."
Delays were likely to be at the collection points in EU countries, rather than at Channel ports, as most lorries will not depart for the UK without first receiving a "movement reference" number to show that the paperwork for their loads has been correctly completed, he said.
"We are fully confident that 90 percent of trade will be fine because it's done by about 10,000 very big companies," said Mr. Veitch. "But nonetheless, just as we saw last year, there is the other 10 percent of smaller traders who get caught out because they often have few people to look at this stuff.
"And because this time the onus is on the EU exporters to get ready, it's very hard for UK government to get those messages to them. There are definitely some bumps in the road to expect."
The chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, Shane Brennan, said: "UK-based businesses are pretty prepared. We've been doing this going the other way for the last 12 months. What we are really worried about is the businesses across the European Union because they are the ones that have to make a change now that they haven't had to since Brexit."As of January, they have to make declarations, they have to do the paperwork, they have to gather information in order to trade with the UK. That is a big change and we are worried about how prepared they are."
Mr. Brennan said importers will face "significant extra cost" of around Â£300-Â£400 for every lorry bringing goods from the EU under the "much more inflexible and much more costly" system which replaces the free movement of goods available when the UK was a member of the 27-nation trading bloc.
Full customs controls have already been in place for 12 months for alcohol and tobacco products, and one Welsh wine importer said he feared an "impending plane crash" for other sectors if their experiences are repeated.
Daniel Lambert declared that the transit time has increased from one to eight weeks following Brexit and it was regularly the case that one-third of his range was missing.
Only two of the 300 EU companies which he buys from had obtained the necessary REX status by the time new arrangements came into place a year ago, and some have still not done so, he said. Even when that bureaucratic hurdle is overcome, errors in paperwork are rife.
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