Nobody really knows what the Brexit implications are for trade, the British International Freight Association’s (BIFA) director general, Robert Keen told delegates at the Brexit Briefing at Multimodal 2017 in Birmingham.
He event brought along a crystal ball to emphasise the point, explaining” “We, like most people, have heard all sorts of ‘facts’ and figures, but really we don’t know any more than we did on 23 June. We have tried not to speculate too much as we don’t know very much.”
Keen did stress however that freight forwarders and the wider logistics business could be sure that in BIFA and ASM, “you have the best people talking to Customs on your behalf”.
ASM (Agency Sector Management) deals with the technical issues and its chairman, Peter MacSwiney outlined some of the ways in which BIFA and ASM are interacting with government agencies, in particular via the Joint Customs Clearance Committee (JCCC).
BIFA is a member of JCCC, the overarching body for Customs legislation in the UK, with MacSwiney joint chair of the Brexit sub-committee.
He says a frictionless border is the highest priority so the sub-committee is looking at what the UK will need to achieve that.
One of the most important elements is to prevent delays at the borders so that “we do not get a traffic jam from Paris to Stoke-on-Trent. This means we need the goods Customs cleared before they reach the ferry or Channel Tunnel.”
Some government regulatory bodies are resistant to that and MacSwiney noted that when Prime Minister Theresa May speaks about Brexit, she is very controlled until she hits the word ‘Customs’.
“This is quite worrying, especially as it seems the Customs agenda will have to wait until the issues of people and who owes what to who have been sorted out.”
He pointed out the UK has spent the last 40 years aligning its systems with those of the rest of Europe so “it would be a shame to throw that all away – to put it mildly.”
For instance, he would like to keep the Single Transit Contract so that, for a consignment going from Heathrow to Paris to New York, the port of EU export would be deemed as Heathrow as it is now.
MacSwiney also explained that the new Customs Declarations Service (CDS) which will gradually replace CHIEF, began development several years ago and so was not designed to deal with Brexit “But I think it probably will”.
His main message was that “I think we are going to be OK. We are engaging fully with Customs and they are listening to us. In the UK, we have a history of sorting it out.”
Keen agreed in general, finishing the session by assaying: “The complexity and level of detail is mind-boggling but hopefully you have been reassured that we have the best people and best tools – as well as the crystal ball, of course.”