Top customs expert admits: New Irish Sea border is ‘cumbersome’ and hugely complex – even for me, with 40 years experience

One of the world’s customs experts has admitted that even he has found the first few days of the new border “very tough” because “there are so many processes”.

Tuesday, 5th January 2021, 9:34 pm
Customs expert Robert Hardy admitted that the new border was "cumbersome" - even for him

Robert Hardy, one of the central figures in the £100 million-a-year government-backed Trader Support Scheme (TSS) which ministers have claimed will smooth over the Irish Sea border, said in an email to senior industry figures yesterday that “the new processes are cumbersome and need to be done in a certain order”.

Mr Hardy’s Customs Clearance Consortium is one of four companies which make up the TSS, the body which was presented by the government as largely taking care of the new requirement to fill in customs forms when moving goods from GB to Northern Ireland.

However, in an email yesterday marked “very important” which has been obtained by the News Letter, Mr Hardy – who has a reputation for plain-speaking – said to private clients of his company: There are so many new processes and a massively steep learning curve, even for me….with 40 year’s experience in this field.”

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He went on: “Export from GB with import to Ireland [is] amongst the most complicated...We expect heavy volumes at Dover from tonight as GB exports start to ramp up and many transporters do not have transit and EU clearance in place.

“There is a huge shortage of customs agents and whilst this might not be visible just yet, it will be from tonight as the pressure will be on export documentation.

“We understand that France have already started to send vehicles back for not having the correct documentation.”

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Mr Hardy went on: “We are getting through the work but the turn-around times are not as we would have liked. This is largely down to poor data.”

He said that his company would be creating immediate changes to how it operated, adding: “Some of these may create additional work at your end but it is important that we ‘spread the pain’ if we are all to get through this initial shock phase”.

Setting out eight new “ground rules” for companies using the Customs Clearance Consortium to assist with moving goods across the new borders, Mr Hardy said that they would require a robotic process automation sheet “at least 4 hours before the documentation is required and at least 8 hours if a transit is required”.

Two acronym-laden paragrpahs dealing with just one element of the new red tape points to its complexity: “Do not use XML, CSV or SLICK for the time being as these are hard for us to work with if there is a data failure or additional processes are required (such as PBN, GVMS, CHED etc). These will be re-introduced

once the initial panic calms down. At the moment full IT integration is at risk of trying to be too clever too soon

“If you require a CHED (TRACES NT) you must send us the export health certificate with the RPA sheet. We cannot complete the TRACES entry without it. Please ensure the EHC scan is less than 2Mb as this is the maximum file size allowed by the TRACES NT system. No EHC (export health cert), no TRACES! Please remember that 24hours notice is required for the Border Control Post. The clock does not start until the CHED is lodged.”

Mr Hardy also said that his company was withdrawing one of the services it had planned to offer businesses because of the overwhelming work involved in trying to work the new arrangements.

He said: “Raising export or import documents in mainland Europe: whilst this has always been our intention there is simply too much pressure keeping up

with the current flows. With immediate effect, we will NOT be raising documents in mainland Europe and would urge you to make contact with a local agent. We can, of course, raise transit documents from GB (providing you clearly show the office of destination on the RPA template).

“Many EU agents are also under pressure and are more familiar with containerized traffic where there is more time (weeks in some cases) to prepare documents.”

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