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Trade gives Customs white paper cautious welcome

[ July 14, 2018   //   ]

BIFA said it had “mixed feelings” about the Brexit White Paper, published on 13 July.

Director general Robert Keen said it “ addresses some of the issues that BIFA has highlighted over the past two years,  including retaining something as close to the Single Market and Customs Union as is possible, with positive ideas on future Customs matters and international trading arrangements.
“But we have to remember that nothing in the White Paper is cast in stone. The proposals on Customs, where the UK is proposing to apply EU tariffs to EU goods passing through the UK, while having the freedom to set different tariffs on goods entering the UK, look complex and untested, something that has already seen negative comment from the EU.”
He suspects that there will be other areas where there will be differences of opinion between the UK and EU.
“Notwithstanding the above, it is the most comprehensive and cogent proposal put forward by the UK Government to date and is a useful basis for negotiation with the EU.
“However, we need to be realistic. It still has to get through parliament, even before the negotiations in Brussels.”

Freight Transport Association (FTA) deputy chief executive James Hookham said the paper included “positive proposals for many areas which have caused concern for the logistics industry, and should give businesses, which have been worried about a lack of clarity over future trading arrangements, some level of reassurance.  It is now Europe’s turn to step up and deliver a similarly supportive, encouraging plan which will minimise the barriers to continued frictionless trading arrangements as the UK leaves the EU.”

Remaining areas of concern included a lack of clarity over road transport permits and the status of EU transport workers after Brexit.

Chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, Tim Morris, added: described the White Paper as “a welcome step forward

He said: “The focus on ensuring and improving the flow of trade – both with the EU and the Rest of the World – is one that the UK’s major ports very much support if realised. We hope that the White Paper as well as addressing the challenges from Brexit keeps open the opportunities, such as putting in the place the right conditions for boosting jobs and investment in the UK’s coastal regions through growing the UK’s unique major ports sector.”

Malcolm Dowden, legal director at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, pointed out that while the paper set great store by firms becoming Authorised Economic Operators, the processing of becoming one was not straightforward. He said: “To qualify for the status of Authorised Economic Operators (customs) businesses must currently be able to show at least three years’ experience of meeting customs obligations. That test cannot be met by the estimated 131,000 businesses who, according to HMRC estimates, will be brought into customs procedures for the first time

“Attaining AEO status is not straightforward. The applications forms are relatively short, but they require a significant body of detailed evidence. Applying for (and then maintaining) AEO status therefore represents a significant investment of cash and management time.

There was also a risk of a significant bottleneck in the approval process as HMRC resources are very limited, he added.

UK Warehousing Association chief executive, Peter Ward, welcomed plans for a facilitated customs arrangement (FCA and the fact that, “unlike some other members of her party, Prime Minister May appears to be living in the real world and has listened to the needs of the business community.”

However: “It remains to be seen however, whether this White Paper is a fanciful wish list aimed primarily at uniting a divided government, that will gain firstly the wider support of parliament, the country, and ultimately Brussels, or whether indeed it is purely a starting point for negotiation.”

(More on the White Paper in the next printed issue of Freight Business Journal – FBJ 5 2018).

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