Hauliers face delays at French ports despite EU fast-track plan

French envoy says system to expedite Irish trucks transiting via UK comes ‘too late’ for Brexit date

An IT system set up by the French authorities will not be able to distinguish between British and Irish lorry drivers transporting food consignments through the UK “landbridge”. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

An IT system set up by the French authorities will not be able to distinguish between British and Irish lorry drivers transporting food consignments through the UK “landbridge”. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

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France’s border authorities have been asked to waive a pre-notification requirement for Irish hauliers exporting food through French ports from Britain. Irish companies say the paperwork will delay deliveries from January 1st.

Transport companies and exporters have raised concerns that an IT system set up by French authorities will not be able to distinguish between British and Irish lorry drivers transporting food consignments through the UK “landbridge”, exposing them to potential delays at French ports.

France developed its own IT system to manage the large volumes of road freight crossing from Britain through French ports before a proposal from Ireland and other EU states was approved by the European Commission to fast-track EU food exports transiting through a non-EU country.

Rather than use the food safety and animal health traceability system known as Traces, the commission agreed with member states most affected by Brexit, including Ireland, to use an alternative IT system for EU goods re-entering the union under the customs transit procedure.

The commission agreed to grant a derogation from the rules last June to avoid the time-consuming requirement of having to submit health certificates for these food consignments or submit multiple health certificates for lorry drivers carrying several different types of food.

However, the French IT system to handle post-Brexit traffic passing through English channel ports cannot be adapted in time for the UK’s departure from the EU taking effect on January 1st.

This will force Irish hauliers to pre-notify the French authorities of food exports and other relevant information on their food consignments on the Traces system under the EU sanitary rules before they transit through the UK or else face the prospect of delays at France’s ports.

Food consignments

France’s ambassador to Ireland, Vincent Guérend, said the request to distinguish between Irish and British trucks carrying food consignments came “too late” to be ready for January 1st, but that the French authorities would look again at changing the system in the coming weeks.

“It is not that we won’t change it in the future; it was just too late for January 1st,” he said.

“Let us sit together again, whenever in January or February, once we have a clearer picture of how the whole thing works or doesn’t work and let us see how this can be accommodated.”

The Revenue confirmed that the simplifications agreed by the commission “will not be compatible with the French system on January 1st”.

“However, the French authorities are committed to reviewing their processes early in 2021 to reflect the legal changes,” a Revenue spokeswoman said.

“It should be noted that, provided all requirements are adhered to, Irish goods will be green routed on re-entry in all member states concerned, and will not be subject to any additional controls.”

The spokeswoman said the Revenue would continue to work with the other member states towards “as seamless an experience as possible within the new trading arrangements”.

Potential delays

Laurence O’Toole, managing director of O’Toole Transport, a Co Galway haulier that transports fresh seafood from Ireland and Scotland to France, said that the French system and the potential delays facing his lorries transiting through the UK were “a big concern for us for next year”.

“They are going to treat our trucks arriving into Calais the same as British trucks, subject to the same SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] checks as if they had arrived from Scotland.”

This was “a huge problem” for his company because it has to trace identification for product that should not be subject to this requirement because EU product is closed for transit through the UK.

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