This article was published before we became the Chartered Institute of Export & International Trade on 10 July 2024, and this is reflected in references to our old brand and name. For more information about us becoming Chartered, visit our dedicated webpage on the change here.

small business paperwork

UK firms have been warned they need to prepare for new customs obligations regardless of the outcome of the talks between the UK and EU this week.

The penultimate round of negotiations for the future trade relationship begin today amid fervent speculation that a no-deal outcome is increasingly likely.

However, Arne Mielken – the Vice President of the Institute of Export & International Trade – told the BBC’s ‘5 Live Breakfast’ programme this morning that companies need to be preparing for rule changes, whatever happens.

"Changes are inevitable regardless of a deal or no deal,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live. “It is now clear that we will be a third country to the EU, which means there will be concrete changes for businesses.”

“Customs formalities and checks will have to be dealt with," he added.

Focus needed

Mielken was responding to caller questions from businesses grappling with the implications of new rules for trade with the EU post-transition.

These included a florist importing from Holland and a London-based firm trading elevator equipment.

In response to a question about reports the UK could override elements of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol, he said companies cannot afford to be “distracted by the politics” of the negotiations.

“What is important is to focus on the task ahead, which is getting ready for post-transition,” he said. “We cannot get distracted by the politics of the talks. We have so much to do on licensing, rules of origin and tax issues.”

Delays likely

Mielken was joined on the show’s ‘Brexit Basics’ segment by Professor Anand Menon – a Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King's College London.

Professor Menon admitted companies will need to prepare for the likelihood of supply chain delays at the start of next year due to border administration in both the UK and EU not being “properly equipped” to deal with a surge in administration.

“You’re going to have to fill in paperwork, register as an importer or exporter and prepare for delays to goods coming and going out because the ports on both sides of the border won’t be properly equipped, so there are going to be hold-ups, at least to start with," he said.

Critical gaps

As a result of the UK leaving the EU customs union and single market there will be an additional 200m plus customs declarations for goods moving between the UK and EU each year, according to widely reported estimates.

The government’s ‘Border Operating Model’ for handling this surge in administration was criticised last week by the logistics industry as having ‘critical gaps’ and insufficient time to fix them.