Businesses are facing a "colossal" increase in customs forms when Brexit takes effect in January, and should be given a grace period to implement the changes, customs industry specialists have said.
Agents responsible for processing customs declarations forms fear that small and medium-sized companies are not ready to cope with the volume of import and export declarations that will be required when the UK becomes a non-EU country for trade from January 1st.
Even if there is a trade deal reached between the EU and UK before the end of the standstill transition period at the end of the year, new customs arrangements involving complex red-tape procedures and heavy volumes of form-filling will required for post-Brexit trade with Britain.
Gerard O’Hare, general manager of customs broker Beagans, estimates only half of businesses are ready for the changes, and that most unprepared firms are small and medium sized.
He expects an increase of 30 to 40 times the number of customs forms currently being filled out.
Mr O’Hare said an implementation period, similar to Britain’s six-month deferral of Brexit customs declarations until June 30th, 2021, would help businesses cope with the changes.
“If the opportunity arose to allow a further implementation period, even if it is only one month, that would be a huge help to everyone,” he said.
“The Government have to realise that there is far from the capacity within the customs clearance field for the clearance of all the goods that is coming from the UK.”
Mr O’Hare also expects “substantial delays” to the large volume of food imports coming from Britain due to EU health checks on animal and plant products.
“There is so much red tape going to have to be dealt with. Unless there is something in a trade deal I have no idea how they are going to continue physically with those imports easily.”
He said a failure to agree a trade deal would add further complications with tariffs and quotas.
The Revenue Commissioners is introducing an Automated Import System (AIS), a new system for processing imports, from today after it was postponed from earlier this month.
Last week Revenue agreed to permit a dual running for processing imports with the existing Automated Entry Processing (AEP) system until December 15th to give businesses time to transfer in light of “the difficult environment that businesses are currently operating in”.
Revenue has urged businesses to move to the new system “in sufficient time” to ensure they are ready for the Brexit deadline of January 1st. AEP will continue to be used for exports.
Owen Cooke, who processes customs as chairman of Independent Express transport and the Pallet Network storage group, said that a "colossal number of customs entries" will hit the system.
“We have no idea of how well it is going to cope. There are massive, massive volumes of this,” he said, expressing concern about the “casual, non-regular importers” who will not be ready in time.
"It is a bit like the fears we had in 2000 with the potential for the whole system to crash with the date change. We will get through this but there may be loads of pain. It is going to be extremely damaging to the economies of Ireland and the UK – there is no question of that."