At the Borderline: The Realities of International Trade

Guest blog from Mick Curran, CEO of CILT and Network Promoter of the CILT Skillnet

A history of open borders

As a small open economy, Ireland has always been dependent on international trade. Since before the time of Gráinne Mhaol we have traded our goods internationally and, through our Irishness, we have developed connections all over the globe and converted these connections into trading relationships. These relationships have been the catalyst that has seen our society and economy grow to unimagined levels.

With our entry into the EEC, we further developed new trading relationships, whilst retaining our old partnerships.  In recent years, our strongest trading relationship is with our nearest neighbour, the UK.  In 2019 the value of this relationship was £62.7 billion.

As I write this, we are exactly 100 days away from the biggest upset to trade with the UK that we have ever seen. Yes, I speak of Brexit. We all hope and wish that it would go away, instead it inches closer and closer.

Time for the talking to end

We have been listening to talks, about talks, for three years now. We have heard about borders down the Irish Sea, no borders, border infrastructure away from the border, border infrastructure on the border. We have heard that “it is not beyond the wit of man” and we have also heard about technological solutions. We have heard a lot, however, action has been thin on the ground.

On the first of January 2021, to trade with the UK, customs declarations will have to accompany goods moving in or out of the UK. It is that simple. 

On 31st Dec 2020, the transition period ends, and the UK will be treated as a third country. Trading with the UK, from a customs perspective, will be the same as trading with a country with no trade deal, where international trade in the absence of a trade agreement takes place under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

The scale of the problem

We currently have approximately 94,000 Irish firms trading with the UK. To continue to trade with the UK post Brexit, an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number will be required.

Over 50,000 Irish firms trading with the UK currently do not have EORI numbers. Without this number, these companies will cease trading with the UK. An application for an EORI number is completed online, it takes approximately 5 minutes and is critical for all 50,000 of these companies should they wish to continue to trade with the UK. To register for an EORI Number, simply click here.

In addition to requiring an EORI number, all goods will have to be accompanied by a customs declaration. As we go from 1.6 million customs declarations per annum to 20 million customs declarations per annum, there may be capacity issues with the existing brokers and freight forwarders to complete the declarations required. 

Who is going to help us?

So, is it better to sit and wait for a last-minute reprieve or engage in some self-help?  At the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), we will always advocate in favour of action and to help address the problem, we have partnered with Skillnet Ireland under the Getting Ireland Brexit Ready initiative to develop a unique upskilling initiative.

Clear Customs, a free, online training programme, is designed to support Irish businesses develop the capacity to deal with the additional customs requirements that will be needed as a result of Brexit. This programme was initially developed in July 2019 and delivered to 668 learners. It has since recommenced in September 2020 in a virtual format with the intention of delivering the programme to 3,000 learners.

Delivered as 10 hours training time spread over five weeks, Clear Customs will train an individual in how to make a customs declaration, both for export and import. The training is delivered by experienced customs professionals and, as well as the live virtual classrooms, learners will have access to an innovative self-paced, app-based programme to develop critical skills in their own time.

The course is free to eligible applicants and is accredited by Carlow Institute of Technology. Upon successful completion participants will be awarded a Certificate of Customs Clearance Procedures (10 credits at Level 6).

Stop waiting, start preparing

Brexit is coming. There are no rabbits to be pulled out of a hat at the last moment. Goods will only be able to move to and from the UK accompanied by a customs declaration. Without a declaration, there will be no movement.

I would encourage all companies trading with the UK to stop waiting and start preparing, apply for an EORI number, contact a freight forwarder or customs broker to see if they will make declarations on your behalf, and finally, join us on the Clear Customs training programme.

Visit www.clearcustoms.ie to learn more and apply.