Trade crisis looms as demand for customs agents soars before Brexit
Moving goods across borders will be a barrier to UK-EU business
London — Household-name companies including Tesla and Kraft Heinz are racing to avoid a Brexit crisis at year-end, as a shortage of customs brokers threatens their ability to move goods between Britain and the EU.
The carmaker and tomato sauce producer are among companies that have struggled to find contractors to help fill out the wave of new paperwork that will apply to UK-EU trade from 2021, according to a person familiar with the matter. Customs agents are running out of their capacity to meet demand due to Brexit, said the person, who asked not to be identified.
Shortages of customs brokers and agents is a major headache for big business and the UK government’s Brexit preparations because goods without the right paperwork will not be allowed to cross borders from January 1, when Britain quits the EU’s single market and customs union. An additional 400-million customs declarations are expected to be required annually on UK-EU trade, at a cost of about £13bn ($17bn), even if the two sides sign a trade deal.
“We are working at speed to ensure all necessary readiness plans are in place,” Heinz said in an e-mailed statement. “As part of our preparations we are considering both internal and external customs support options.” The maker of Heinz ketchup and Philadelphia cream cheese said it’s confident it will fulfil necessary requirements.
Representatives for Tesla in Europe and the US didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The logistics industry has predicted 50,000 more customs agents are needed to handle the extra paperwork for Brexit. Cabinet office minister Michael Gove was asked several times in parliament this week how many have been trained. He declined to give a figure.
“It is a matter for the market,” he said on Monday in the House of Commons. HM Revenue & Customs, the UK’s tax authority, would also not say how many new agents are ready when contacted by Bloomberg News. The government has made £84m in grants available for customs training, but HMRC declined to comment on how much of that has been drawn down.
The official leading the government’s border Brexit preparations, Emma Churchill, told MPs earlier in October that the grants had funded customs-training courses for 20,000 people. The system has been hampered by slow and complex bureaucratic procedures to access the funds, according to an insider. Some participants were already working in the industry, said the source.
Capacity for logistics companies is so limited that several of the world’s biggest companies are turning down Brexit work because they are sold out.
Danish shipping group AP Moller-Maersk is rejecting potential clients while Switzwerland’s Kuehne + Nagel International is accepting customs work only from businesses for which it carries cargo.
Rosslyn Data Technologies, which provides software for companies to file their own customs declarations, said it had five times more inquiries in recent weeks, but it had to turn away prospective clients whose demands were too complex.
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