Arne Mielken of customsmanager.org discusses how best to minimise your company’s Brexit bills, as the UK prepares to cut the last remaining ties with the EU at the end of 2020.
In a little under five months’ time, the United Kingdom will be leaving the last remaining parts of the European Union, ending a partnership that has lasted more than 47 years. When it joined, there were just nine member states which belonged to the old ‘Common Market’, but by the time it departs at the end of December 2020, the UK will say ‘goodbye’ to 27 affiliated countries.
For three of the four British regions it will mean the end to working within the rules of the Single Market and Customs Union. These, however, will still apply to Northern Ireland, which has a land border with the Republic of Ireland. A new set of laws will come into force. These, essentially, will be a mixture of rules resembling former EU laws and other remarkably different ones.
For businesses trading with the EU, a key change will be the re-emergence of the UK’s border between our islands and the continent. This will mean dealing with the necessary border clearance formalities. Accurate and timely customs declarations will need to be submitted, with dues paid on time or correctly deferred. Supply chains and transportation routes will have to be re-considered, while contracts will need to be re-evaluated. In short: It is never too early to start preparing.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the attention of many businesses has shifted ‘ understandably ‘ away from Brexit preparations. Managing a business in times of a severe pandemic continues to take a high toll on our country’s PLCs. The few available funds have probably been channelled towards keeping businesses afloat, rather than preparing them for a new legal order. Yet the Government insists that now is the time to check, change and go.
So, can you prepare for Brexit without investing significant amounts of money? Can you even prepare for new EU-UK trading relationships at low cost? In this feature, we explore the options available for businesses on a low or zero ‘Brexit budget’. In other words: Can you really prepare for Brexit for free?
Combine knowledge and expertise
You may not be an expert on Brexit, but you are still an expert of your own business. So, combine the wealth of knowledge of your key business stakeholders into a single unit and discuss the impact of Brexit by holding regular meetings. With this in place you can devise in-house solutions without the need (at least initially) of appointing expensive external consultants.
Designate an EU-UK Trade Champion
Allocate one of your staff members to champion preparations. This person will require allotted time to study guidance and learn about the Brexit issues facing the business. But, with this knowledge on board, they can steer the group through the challenges that need to be addressed, while keeping everyone updated on a regular basis. Although this does require ‘ almost definitely ‘ a small cost, it’s certainly cheaper than outsourcing the entire planning and preparation process.
Consult publicly available guidance and news
Time to read and watch! There is a wealth of official guidance and documentation published by the UK Government, which is designed to help all businesses get started. Begin by looking at https://www.gov.uk/transition, before moving on to the more specific import and export guidance.
Although there is a huge supply of good information available online, be careful not to become overloaded with newsletters, updates or alerts ‘ or you may risk getting lost in all the ‘noise’. Be selective with the kind of information you would like to receive and make certain it’s as relevant and as useful as possible. A good place to start is to sign up to official government information which covers the transition period. This may be extremely broad and generic, but is usually essential. Next, aim for an update or newsletter service that is bespoke to your own business, which means you only receive information you actually need. You may have to invest a small fee for these types of personalised newsletters, but it’s a worthwhile investment if you ask me.
Check out available financial support
Make sure you access available Government grants to assist your business with training. Applications are open until the end of June 2021 for grants that will help businesses train staff to understand procedures and regulations relating to customs declarations. There are grants that will give you up to 100% of the cost of training employees, and up to a maximum of £1,500 per trainee. You can find out more by clicking: https://www.customsintermediarygrant.co.uk/
One example of the type of training course that is fully funded is ‘Customs Declarations Step-By-Step,‘ from the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT). To learn more click: https://www.export.org.uk/page/StepbyStepGuideCustoms.
Access free training
There is also a wealth of free webinars and online presentations that your business can tap into. The most comprehensive collection, in my mind, is provided by a business support service called ‘Open to Export‘. Here, you can discover topics such as: ‘Border Operating Model (BOM)’ or ‘Preparing for the end of the transition period.’ There is no cost for attending these webinars, while recordings are freely available at https://opentoexport.com/webinars/
Get a free taster session with a customs consultant
If you do need bespoke advice for your particular circumstances, then speak to a consultant of your choice. If you need help finding one, get in touch. Ask if you could get a free taster session. More often than not, advisors are happy to offer their initial thoughts on issues, as well as point you in the right direction ‘ free of charge ‘ provided you select them when the real substantial work begins.
Trial membership in a trade association
Being part of a trade association is a must-do. They operate in the specific areas that matter to you and understand most if not all of the EU-UK exit challenges. In addition to the specialised ones, there are associations with a broader remit, like the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) which offers global trade support at very competitive rates. Find out which associations work for you and get in touch to see if they can offer a free or low cost trial membership (maybe explore different tiers). By taking this approach, you can quickly evaluate which ones are right for you and your business.
Trading with Northern Ireland? Get your customs declarations done for free
The Trader Support Service (TSS) is a new free-of-charge service which will facilitate the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland or, alternatively, help to bring goods into Northern Ireland from outside the UK. According to the BBC, this service ‘will effectively see the Government acting as a customs agent on behalf of businesses.’ Find out more at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/trader-support-service
Leaving the EU will come at a high cost to UK businesses ‘ this is a given. However, the cost of preparing for this change does not have to be expensive, providing businesses do their homework by allocating the time needed to learn and understand all of the relevant information. The key is to focus on what’s relevant to your business and not get bogged down in endless newsletters and press releases which only fill up your inbox. Trade associations, such as the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT), or global trade analysts and customs consultancies can certainly help to identify what matters to you.