IOE and IT graduate and member Sylwia Nowak on why verifying and updating your knowledge is so important

Fri 7 Oct 2022
Posted by: William Barns-Graham

IOE&IT graduation ceremony

In international trade, as with many things, ensuring you have the right information to hand is key.

“It’s mega important to be able to source information correctly,” Sylwia Nowak BA MIEx, the senior customs and foreign trade compliance officer at automotive firm Brose Group, told me. “It’s the priority”.

Nowak leaves nothing to chance when it comes to staying in the loop on the regulatory changes and updates that are pertinent to her role. She is an avid listener to the Institute of Export & International Trade’s webinars and a regular reader of the IOE&IT Daily Update.

“These are the main benefits that I currently use as a member,” she said. “The IOE&IT is very close with the UK government and is one of the first to know about any new changes.”

Trusted expertise

There have been a lot of changes too, particularly since Brexit. She reels off the introduction of the Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS), the switchover to the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) and the government’s plans for a Single Trade Window as key changes that the IOE&IT has informed her about.

“IOE&IT is almost always the first to advise on trade compliance news in this country,” she says.

The role the IOE&IT plays in digesting upcoming or recently introduced changes and then verifying their advice about them is also important.

She explains:

“There’s so much information that’s out there on the internet which isn’t correct and isn’t verified.

“This is important because there are businesses out there basing their trade procedures on advice on YouTube videos created by so-called traders, but the information is incorrect.

“The information needs to be valid because you know that businesses will be basing their procedures and their decisions based on it. So it's mega important to know that the information you’re using is verified.”

Opening doors

Nowak has stayed on as a member since finishing the IOE&IT’s Diploma in World Customs Compliance and Regulation in January 2021. She funded her own studies and completed the course during the pandemic.

“Gaining a professional qualification has massively expanded my options and opportunities in customs and international trade jobs,” she tells me.

She was working at an engineering firm when she decided to do the qualification. A mentor of hers, Liam Noonan, had been teaching her the basics of trade compliance and inspired her to delve deeper.

Doing the course, she learnt about trade’s wider impact on the wider business landscape and on daily life too. She describes this experience as being “like opening a door”.

She tells me:

“When you think about it, trade affects us all the time. When you go to the shop, the goods have come from somewhere.

“Then after Brexit and during the pandemic, you realise how important customs and international trade really is. Consider, for example: free trade agreements, customs regimes such as autonomous tariff quotas, or even additional costs importers needs to bear like import declaration fees especially on goods from the EU after Brexit. They really affect the prices of the goods we buy at the shop.

“Even if UK has a free trade agreement with countries like South Korea or Canada, when we receive goods from these countries, importers still need to prove preferential origin so they can meet the agreement’s rules of origin. This is important because then the importer doesn’t have to pay duties. It impacts the cost.

“Another example is the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how it has affected the whole supply chain. These things impact international trade around the world.

Personal growth

Nowak is keen to point out that she also learns from the people she works with, as well as the IOE&IT’s webinars, bulletins and courses.

She mentions another mentor from her time at Delphi Technologies, Kevin Freeman, who “drove me to do my best every single day” and “really supported me with my growth”.

When working with Freeman she was doing a lot of auditing and was coming to terms with many different types of customs procedures. The learnings she made doing this have proved invaluable as customs procedures have become more important post-Brexit.

She explains:

“If you were at a company that had only dealt with the EU single market previously, you had not had to deal with any of this. The agreement between the UK and EU was also signed very late, so there were many companies that were very uncertain and this impacted supply chains.

“Companies who had never been exposed to imports and exports had to learn very quickly about customs procedures.

“You had to all of a sudden become an expert in, say, rules of origin, so that you can import your goods duty free. You also needed to make sure your suppliers were doing their calculations and checks so that the goods were actually eligible for this.

“I think Brexit taught us a lot!”

What’s next

Nowak continues to regularly listen and read IOE&IT webinars and bulletins as a full member of the IOE&IT, retaining membership after graduating in 2021.

She attended the first post-pandemic graduation ceremony in 2021 and said it felt “amazing to be officially recognised as a customs specialist”.

Her thirst for knowledge remains unbounded, however, and she plans to continue expanding her knowledge around customs procedures and digitalisation. She is even hoping to write and publish a book about customs processes, including how to save money on duties.

She also recently participated in a ‘Model WTO’ event in Geneva, in which delegates simulated being national representatives in a WTO debate. Playing the role of an Australian representative, her proposal about digitalising customs processes was voted as the best idea from the trade facilitation committee. The idea was even put forward to a real life WTO debate, something she describes as a “quite an achievement”.

It was another landmark in her career that she hopes to take inspiration from and build upon.

“I wish to do something similar in the future where I can proudly represent the country as we have so much to offer in customs and international trade,” she said.

We look forward to seeing her in Geneva soon!

To read more of the October edition of Member Monthly go here.