A newly published government paper detailing potential trade and customs arrangements post-Brexit has been recognised as a “step in the right direction” by the Freight Transport Association (FTA), one of the UK’s largest trade organisations and a representative of the logistics sector.
But the FTA is urging caution. The proposals as laid out are exactly that; proposals, far from guaranteed. Peerless negotiation will be required if British businesses are to trade freely once unplugged from the EU.
“The government has recognised that it cannot drive the British economy off the cliff edge of Brexit,” said James Hookham, Deputy Chief Executive of the FTA. “But to secure the best possible deal for British business will take skill and understanding of how trading relationships work, in order to obtain the buy-in of the rest of the EU27 countries, as well as the EU’s own bureaucrats. The FTA is keen to play its part in helping to develop efficient customs procedures post-Brexit, which will keep trade flowing freely, and urges the government to include representatives of the sector, with specialist knowledge, at the negotiating table to help reach the best possible deal for Britain.”
The government paper puts forward a “temporary customs union” solution to immediately follow the separation in March 2019. During this period, government officials would expect to negotiate their own international trade deals – something strictly prohibited to all EU Customs Union members. Once time is called, the government hopes to establish a streamlined border with the EU or a new kind of partnership without a customs border at all.
“The government’s ambitions for customs arrangements post-Brexit are, at present, just that, and it will take time and care to ensure that all the subtleties of current operations can be incorporated into future plans,” continued Mr Hookham. “The logistics industry has clearly identified its needs if trade is to continue in a frictionless manner with the EU and the rest of the world, and the government owes it to British trade and industry to work with us to ensure that these arrangements can be introduced as part of the final Brexit deal.”
In partnership with the 16,000 member organisations it represents, the FTA has developed its own CLEAN agenda for Brexit, and the association is urging ministers to take note. It covers:
- Customs systems and procedures capable of handling up to 300 million additional annual declarations
- Learning curve – time to adapt to new systems and acclimatise to making customs declarations for UK-EU trade
- Equivalent procedures in all other European customs administrations to avoid intra-EU border delays
- Avoid vehicle checks at ports and airports where there is no time and no room – advance declarations and clearance systems can eliminate the need for checks
- No cliff-edge in trade procedures – businesses will require transitional arrangements to ensure international trade can continue to operate 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, especially if negotiations break down at short notice and the UK exits the customs union without a deal
“No trade deal will succeed unless freight and logistics requirements have been factored into any discussions between the EU and the UK,” concluded Mr Hookham. “Without involving the sector in negotiations, the government risks driving the country’s economy off the Brexit cliff onto the beach below.
“The FTA has a clear agenda and is fully prepared to play a constructive and productive role in forthcoming negotiations, and work with government to ensure that the final Brexit deal is designed to keep Britain trading.”
According to the FTA, Great Britain remains a world leader where logistics is concerned. The sector contributes 11% of the UK’s non-financial business economy and, in 2016, employed 2.54 million people – approximately 8% of the UK’s workforce.