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What now for Customs and Brexit?

Theresa May ran a Conservative campaign based on “Brexit means Brexit” which for May meant a Hard Brexit. In May’s vision of the future of the UK this meant leaving the Customs Union and leaving the Single Market.

For Irish Traders this meant the imposition of customs duties on trade with the UK, the imposition of border controls and potential complications for importing UK goods in terms of conformity with EU standards.

For the Agri-Food industry an additional nightmare would be the need for agricultural products to be imported from EU approved plants and the requirement for import licenses.

What Brexit means is still unclear

Brexit might still mean departure from the Single Market and Customs Union as planned by Theresa May and re-confirmed by the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond in an interview with the BBC on the 18th June.

However there may still be a Free Trade Agreement concluded which will minimise the impact of customs duties and tariffs.

Finally, with the DUP now entering a confidence and supply arrangement with May the views of Northern Ireland businesses will have to come front and centre in the negotiations. Arlene Foster has made it very clear that the DUP is against a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. For the border this can only mean good news and a focus on what will be good for business trading North to South (which equally impacts positively on South-North trade).

What steps should Exporters be taking at this point?

Essentially this has not changed from the advice provided in previous newsletters.

Firstly review the supply chain and determine the information and other requirements which will be necessary to enable you to complete Import/Export Declarations and minimise any delays at customs.

Secondly review your products and determine the best, likely and worst case scenario in terms of additional duty rates.

Thirdly upskill and train staff to understand and implement the new requirements.
 

What could a “practical” Brexit look like in trade terms and how should business now look to plan ahead for March 2019?

1. Trade Agreements and Tariffs

The first question often asked is whether or not customs duties will apply on imports into the UK from Ireland or on import into Ireland from the UK.  At this point there is no answer to this question as it will depend on the type of agreement the UK and EU conclude and the scope of that agreement (most agreements have limited applicability to agricultural products).

When people refer to a Hard Brexit or a Soft Brexit it generally refers to the UK being outside the EU/Customs Union/Single Market (Hard Brexit) or remaining part of the Single Market or Customs Union.

In the former case this would mean the UK being treated as a third country subject to standard MFN (WTO) rates. This can range up to 10% for industrial products and up to 50% for agricultural products.

In the case of a soft Brexit however any of the following scenarios could apply:

  • The UK and EU agree a Customs Union with the EU – similar to the current arrangement for Turkey. Under the Turkey Customs Union, Turkey agree to adopt the EU’s common external tariffs on third-country imports, as well as all EU preferential trade agreements concluded with third countries. However, Turkey does not have a say in the negotiations of EU Free Trade Agreements with third countries (despite being bound by them in relation to imports). This would mean therefore that the UK apply the EU’s Customs Tariff to all imports into the UK. Goods subsequently imported into the UK or EU would not be subject to an additional duty payment on movement to the other’s territory (subject to an ATR cert to confirm the status of the goods). The UK would be subject to EU Free Trade Agreements (FTA’s) and would have to allow FTA countries preferential access to the UK market (It is to be presumed that they would also easily agree UK access to the FTA countries market).
  • EEA (Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein)/EFTA (Switzerland) type arrangement.
    The EEA countries have full access to the Single Market in the same way as current EU Member states on the basis that all EU single market legislation is fully implemented in their countries. In addition they must apply the four freedoms. EEA countries do not however have a say in the EU decision-making process on relevant EU legislation and policies.Goods can move without customs duties where goods qualify as “originating products” (subject to a EUR1 document to prove originating status).
  • Preferential Trade Agreements – The EU has concluded a myriad of trade agreements such as the Canada Trade Agreement and South Korea Trade Agreement. Each agreement is specific to the party and what they agree to. In general however these agreements provide for preferential duty access to each other’s market subject to goods qualifying as “originating” – as per the EEA/EFTA agreements above.

 

2. Border Controls

Regardless of the type of agreement concluded, once the UK becomes a non-EU country a customs declaration will still be required on export from the EU and import into the EU. In addition some form of Border control will have to apply.

Even with imports from Turkey, which has a Customs Union with the EU, a SAD is required to be lodged along with an ATR document to prove that goods are in free circulation in the Union.

Similarly with the Norway- Sweden border there are customs controls and the requirement for customs declarations. On the Norway-Sweden border for example there are 10 customs checkpoints with HGVs required to travel via one of these road border crossing points.

However, with an EEA/EFTA type arrangement or a Customs Union then the possibility of an electronic border and customs facilitation stations, as envisaged by Revenue, becomes more likely. While this would simplify the position on the North-South border in terms of movement of goods it does not negate the need for customs compliance and declarations to be submitted to Customs to account for the movement of those goods.

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