NI firms told: 'get ready to fill in customs declarations but government training grants will help'

Mon 29 Jun 2020
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
IOE News

Firms from all over the UK tuned in on Friday 26 June to the UK Customs Academy’s latest and most detailed-so-far webinar update on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

That agreement governs the movement of goods into NI from Great Britain and back, after the UK’s transition from the EU ends in December.

Summing up the Protocol for an audience of nearly 500 delegates, host Kevin Shakespeare, the IOE&IT’s director of stakeholder engagement, said that firms moving goods from Great Britain to NI and back needed to be ready to fill in customs declarations.

Shakespeare’s advice was couched with the reminder that the practicalities of how the Protocol will be applied are “still evolving”, including:

  • what constitutes goods that the UK government terms “at risk” of moving from NI across its land border with the Irish Republic
  • interpretation of Transit rules as they will apply to moving goods between the three territories of Great Britain, NI and the Irish Republic.

A recording of this webinar is available free to view on YouTube here but as a guide, here we present key points we learned from the presentation.

Seven things we learned

1. NI remains aligned to EU customs rules as well as those of the UK…
“Northern Ireland has a foot in both camps – it remains part of the Union Customs Code,” Shakespeare told delegates.

The implication of this is that “goods transiting the Republic and Northern Ireland to access Great Britain may be subject to customs procedures and any applicable tariffs,” delegates heard.

At the same time, the UK government has indicated that additional checks will be needed on products of animal origin (including fisheries). These checks will be implemented by expanding existing facilities in NI, currently used for checks on live animals.

2. …so firms moving goods between NI and GB must learn about customs authorisations
The new reality for business after December 2020 is the need for expertise on how to complete customs declarations. Shakespeare said the Institute is “seeing a big spike” in applications for courses on the UK Customs Academy, which the IOE&IT runs on behalf of HMRC, and the Institute’s own customs qualifications.  

3. …but government grants will help
Several times delegates raised the subject of UK government grants, a pot that was recently boosted to £50m, asking for whom and what they are intended.

Shakespeare was happy to respond that the grants are open to traders – importers and exporters – as well as intermediaries such as freight forwarders.

The grants also cover IT and recruitment, Shakespeare said, adding that the “idea behind them is to build capacity for firms in both NI and Great Britain to complete customs declarations”.

4. Great Britain’s importance to NI
Lest we were in any doubt, Great Britain is NI’s single biggest export destination, a trading relationship that is far greater than that with the Irish Republic.

Shakespeare set the scene by outlining that £10.6bn-worth of goods was sold by NI to firms in Great Britain. Food, beverages and tobacco is by the largest segment, equating to £1.8bn of trade for NI.

5. What is GVMS?
The technology-based Goods Vehicle Movement System is in development for tracking the movement of goods across the Irish Sea, and Shakespeare outlined how a truck might proceed from NI to Great Britain from 2021 using GVMS.

Delegates asked what preparation they needed to do on GVMS, with Shakespeare responding that further announcements on GVMS are due “and they need to come quickly”.  

6. Are Customs Special Procedures a solution?
Customs Special Procedures (CSPs), such as customs warehousing and inward processing, could be a solution to ensuring goods move between Great Britain, the Irish Republic and NI without too much disruption.

These established procedures streamline the documentary requirements a company has for exporting goods over borders.

CSPs were also raised as a potential solution to trade between GB, NI and the rest of the world.

7. Keeping an audit trail is vital
Businesses trading between NI, Great Britain and the Irish Republic need to learn to keep an audit trail of all trade documentation, it was advised.

Firms were also told to pay close attention to ensuring they use the correct commodity code and were told to consider what Incoterm they use for Great Britain-NI trade.