I actually managed to read a few books and catch up on shows I’ve been waiting to watch for a while, as normal during the vacation season, including a great documentary starring Michael Caine about the Swinging Sixties and their influence in the early Seventies.
Caine ended with the line “Don’t look back in anger, look forward in hope,” which could also refer to this period.
Of course, we now have the specifics of the Brexit deal and the follow-up documents will be correctly sifted through and discussed inside the Chamber of Commerce network and even by corporations and politicians around the world in the coming weeks and months.
Clearly, for small and medium-sized enterprises who lack the time and money to understand the agreement and find out what it means to them individually, the UK government and trade associations need to publish realistic explanations as soon as possible.
What has been clear for some time, whether or not an agreement has been reached, is that customs declaration papers must be in effect for all companies that import or export.
In order to transport goods to and from Europe, companies trading with the EU need an Economic Operator and Identification Number (EORI), otherwise their products will be held up at the ports as customs would not enable them to pass through.
We also cautioned in the negotiations that corporations, regardless of their size or sector, need to decide carefully what adjustments they need to make. Worryingly, only 10 percent of respondents said they were’ completely prepared’ for what was coming in a recent survey by the British Chambers of Commerce.
The risk is that people have wrongly believed that if an agreement was reached, the extent of customs formalities would not change significantly.
The good news, however, is that support is at hand. The network of Chambers will help companies manage the new regulations, and we have been working closely with HMRC to develop ChamberCustoms.
This is a service for customs advice, training and referrals. It is projected by the National Audit Office that the number of customs declarations will rise from the current 55 million customs declarations per year to about 255 million customs declarations per year as of January, which could have an effect on any company that imports or exports.
As EU countries account for just over half of imports into the United Kingdom, the amount of regulated goods passing through our ports will greatly increase, and ChamberCustoms will clear import and export goods at all ports in the United Kingdom. I will urge companies that trade with the EU to rapidly sign up. In order to assist with preparation and any IT changes the new rules may require, government grants are widely available.
Trade associations must continue to raise awareness among importers and exporters about the need for a comprehensive training program and the need to enforce customs declaration laws. Consideration should also be given to the retraining of recently unemployed employees with adequate skills to fill the requisite positions for processing millions of customs declaration documents.
Now may be the time for pragmatism and commitment to work to make the new partnership between the UK and the EU work. Businesses will schedule, spend and turn to new markets again with better clarity on the terms of trade.
There are many foreign trade opportunities for Scottish companies, despite the difficulties ahead, but it is vital that correspondence on the specifications is transparent, consistent and unrelenting, and that companies remain well equipped with the paperwork and the tools and talent to get their goods to the market.
Change will come and we all need to look ahead, remain optimistic and be ready, as Mr. Caine said.
Richard Muir is the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce’s deputy chief executive.