Conferencing + Events Feature — 16 May 2018

Coca-Cola estimates Brexit will cost the company as much as EUR 30 million, with its manufacturing plant in the Republic of Ireland, bottling facility in Northern Ireland, and suppliers of packaging and other goods located throughout Europe, all taking a hit.

That is according to Tom Thornton, President of the Irish International Freight Association (IIFA), who added: “A company that size can cope and will pass on some costs to the consumers, but a lot of smaller companies won’t be able to do that.”

Thornton was speaking to delegates at one of several Brexit sessions at Multimodal 2018, the UK’s largest logistics exhibition and conference, taking place at the Birmingham NEC.

Of course, neither Coca-Cola nor anyone else knows exactly what the post-Brexit arrangements will be, as Robert Keen, Director General of British International Freight Association (BIFA) pointed out.

“We haven’t got a lot more to tell you than we could during this session last year, but all the indications are that whatever is decided, it will increase bureaucracy and red tape,” he said.

The politicians always say it can be sorted by technology, but like others at the session, Peter MacSwiney, Chairman of Agency Sector Management (ASM) and Co-Chair of the Joint Customs Consultative Committee (JCCC) Brexit Sub Group, was sceptical.

“We are unpicking everything that has been established over the last 40 years,” he said. “There are very complex supply chains that cross the borders many times so there is a huge gulf between the political aspirations and the issues on the ground.”

Even the expansion of trusted trader schemes such as Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) do not mean that shippers will not need to make Customs declarations, explained Robert Windsor, Policy and Compliance Manager and Executive Director for BIFA. “Technology might make it better, but it does not solve the issue.”

Thornton said there were 68,000 companies in Ireland trading with the UK who have never dealt with a Customs border.

“We are trying to encourage them to look at the tariffs and categories for their products, so they can produce paperwork which forwarders can use to prepare Customs entries. They need to understand the language and what is likely to be expected of them.”

The issue is further complicated as the UK is in the process (planned long before Brexit) of replacing CHIEF, its existing Customs entry system, and all data sets and “the complexities are huge”, said MacSwiney.

“There is just no way we can put in place by March next year any practical measures to do anything different to what we do now.”

The speakers all agreed that some sort of special arrangement between Ireland and Northern Ireland was not realistic as whatever was agreed for the Irish border would need to be approved by all EU States.

Windsor explained: “EU legislation is very precise and detailed, so I do not think there will be a fudge. It would have much wider implications, with other members then seeking similar arrangements where it suited their interests.”

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