UK-EU trade collapse 'to last until summer'

Imports and Exports | | MIC Customs Solutions |

Industry groups have warned the UK needs to greatly increase its number of customs agents in order to help support trade with the EU.

A significant downturn in trade volumes between the UK and the EU is set to last until at least the summer, with a lack of customs agents a key issue, industry groups have warned.

The forecast comes shortly after it was revealed that exports from the UK to the EU collapsed by 40 per cent in January compared with the same month in 2020, as a combination of Brexit and the worsening Covid-19 situation impacted cross-channel traffic.

Overall, figures from the UK's Office for National Statistics showed the value of exports from the country dropped by £5.6 billion, while imports fell by 28.8 per cent (£6.6 billion).

To ease the situation, the UK government has extended checks in imports for another six months. Businesses importing most goods to the UK will have until January 2022 before customs checks are completed at ports and other inland facilities.

However, the EU is not following suit, which means UK firms looking to export to the continent need to find customs agents to assist with the necessary paperwork, and these are proving to be in short supply. The problem is especially acute for exporters of livestock, who also need to find veterinarians to certify animal products meet EU safety and welfare regulations.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, told the Guardian many customs agents were turning business away due to the deluge of requests.

Head of public affairs at the body Rod McKenzie also noted that figures for the number of goods vehicles crossing the Channel do not illustrate the full scale of the problem, as up to 40 per cent of containers moving from the UK to the continent are empty.     

He said to counter these issues, the UK government needs to greatly increase its recruitment of customs agents by around 30,000 in order to manage these new regulations. Even then, it will take time to train these new agents, which means delays can be expected to continue until at least the summer.