Member Interview: Andy Bridges on his journey from learner to IOE&IT employee

Fri 31 May 2024
Posted by: Benjamin Roche

Not only is Andy Bridges a member of the Institute of Export and International Trade (IOE&IT), he is now also an employee. Presenting courses on everything from the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) to trading with the EU, he says he’s “learning and teaching” at the same time.


In the 1990s, Bridges was working with an air charter firm from Bournemouth Airport, which did not have an in-house expert on importing and exporting. Working the night shift, which meant addressing problems happening on the day shift, his employers suggested he upskill with an upcoming two-day course delivered by IOE&IT.

“It was another string to my bow and I never looked back,” he says. Post-Covid, he did look forwards, however, and saw a vacancy at IOE&IT. He thought “well, I know a bit about that – let’s give it a go”.

‘All the information I need’

A member since 2021, Bridges says that membership has helped him “tremendously” throughout his career.

“Prior to my joining, I always knew I could find information that I need handy on the IOE&IT website. I’ve been able access all the information that I absolutely need to do my job, and now it’s coming at me all the time, because I’m at IOE&IT myself.”

On the Windsor Framework – formerly the Northern Ireland Protocol – he emphasises how up-to-date IOE&IT resources are, noting that the information informing its courses. His own work presenting courses on trading in and out of Northern Ireland, as well as trading with the EU, makes use of that information.

“It’s been positive. It’s like I’m getting paid to learn, to upskill, as well as to teach. I’ve been very vocal since I started on how much I enjoy working for IOE&IT – I wish I’d been here 10 or 15 years ago.”

TCA talk

Bridges’ expertise is particularly strong in these areas – Northern Ireland and the EU. On the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) signed by the UK and EU in the wake of Brexit, he says there was always going to be “an unpredictable element” due to delays formalising the agreement and with the Northern Ireland Assembly returning to power-sharing, and complications arising from Northern Irelands position “with a foot in both EU and GB markets”.

Questions over issues such as the Northern Ireland Protocol and later the Windsor Framework caused an end to the Assembly’s power-sharing agreement, which was only restored earlier this year. However, Bridges is optimistic on the shape and future of the TCA:

“I don’t think we’ve had the problems that were touted at the beginning of the changes with the TCA, which I think has been very positive.

“There is still scope for more positive changes – what will happen after the general election is unpredictable. We shall see, but we’ve only had the low-hanging fruit so far and there are bigger prizes. It’s been smoother than what people might have been expecting and it can still improve.”

Takeaways for traders

For traders working with Europe in the wake of the changes, his advice is to ensure they “do their due diligence”.

“They need to understand their product more than anything, and make sure that they’ve got things like EORI numbers, CDS and duty deferment accounts in place and up to date.

“Keep an eye on legislation and regulations. Take notice of any changes – HMRC and IOE&IT are good at passing that information on.”

Speaking from his experience with the introduction of changes around the Windsor Framework, he says that traders should in future be “more proactive”, particularly on changes like the move from CHIEF to CDS.

Repeated delays to the final deadline for migration were because “companies didn’t want to do it”, he suggests. While HMRC were accommodating to those whose migration took longer, “it’s not good practice to run a company – let alone a country – with two systems”.

He advises members to “make the most of what IOE&IT has to offer”.

“There’s a lot of material out there for members. The information, and the way IOE&IT delivers it in a timely manner, is admirable. Use the helpline and, if you need it, the Trader Support Service (TSS).

“Use that human consultation time – get an expert on the line. Being a member far outweighs the economies of not being a member, and there’s something for everyone.”