Following a survey of its members, the British International Freight Association (BIFA) reports that the majority of respondents believe that an extension to the transition period is desirable, if no trade deal is agreed by December 31st 2020 and UK trade with the EU is conducted on WTO terms.

The trade association that represents companies that are on the front line in the management of the UK’s visible imports and exports conducted the survey in response to the UK government’s insistence that it will not ask to extend the transition period.

BIFA Director General, Robert Keen comments: “This is not a political comment from our members. They are a pragmatic group. They understand that the UK has left the EU.

“It is a clear message to Government that BIFA members and the clients that they serve have great reservations over whether they will have the capacity to handle the major changes to the UK’s trading relationship at the start of 2021, such as new customs documentation and procedures.”

The survey revealed considerable concerns regarding the recruitment of staff qualified and experienced in Customs procedures and the lack of available time to train them.

With no extension to the transition period, 50 percent of respondents felt they would not have sufficient staff to undertake the additional Customs-related work that will be required from January 1st 2021, whilst 60 percent felt they would not have time for comprehensive training of new recruits.

In a recent letter to the parliamentary committee responsible for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, BIFA raised ongoing concerns over potentially misleading and ambiguous comments from politicians and government regarding Customs matters.

In the letter, BIFA noted that it had heard that the Government is planning a new customs academy in Kent. It expressed its surprise that the trade association that represents companies that undertake a large proportion of the UK’s customs entries, and is the largest provider of Customs training services, has not been invited to participate in any substantive talks about such an academy.

Keen adds: “Sadly, it is a further example of the lack of meaningful consultation with UK trade regarding the policies and procedures required in order to ensure that trade with the EU can continue relatively uninterrupted post December 31st 2020.

“With very little progress to date on key negotiating points in the formal talks and with many of the civil service resources previously assigned to support negotiations reallocated to deal with the coronavirus emergency response, it would be very risky and unwise not to seek an extension.

“Even before the pandemic, our members were concerned that the 11-month transition wouldn’t leave enough time to prepare for a potential no deal. Having had their businesses affected badly by the effects of the pandemic, I really do wonder whether they, and the clients they serve, will have the capacity to increase readiness for a sharp change in trading practices and conditions from the start of next year.

“We know that the Government is capable of listening to advice from business. Last Friday’s announcement that workers within the haulage and freight industry are exempt from the government’s new measures concerning travellers entering the country, resulted from much lobbying by BIFA amongst others.

“When 72 percent of the 400 BIFA member companies which completed the survey, and are actively involved day-to-day in managing the UK’s visible imports and exports, call for an extension of the transition period, we can only hope that the Government will again be listening.”