The British International Freight Association (BIFA) has reiterated its hopes that a UK-EU trade deal can be achieved before the end of the Brexit transition period, following the news that the EU will impose full Customs controls and checks on goods from the UK from 2021.

The EU’s ambassador to the UK announced that the bloc has no plan to reciprocate the UK’s decision to offer traders a six-month phased transition of the revised importing arrangements. As a result, BIFA said that a trade deal is “more important than ever”.

Robert Keen, BIFA director general, explained: “In the event of no trade deal and no reciprocal grace period being offered by the EU for goods moving from the UK into mainland Europe, there is a high likelihood of significant frontier delays.” He added that even if a trade deal is agreed, BIFA members will have to manage a huge increase in paperwork and administration, leading to potential disruption and delays at the border.

“We continue to question whether there is enough time for the companies that manage cross-border trade between the UK and EU to make the necessary preparations to facilitate the revised arrangements, even with the UK’s decision to implement a phased transition for the new border processes on imports from the EU, and the promise of an additional GBP50 million (USD62.3 million) investment in Customs IT infrastructure and training,” said Keen.

A package recently announced by HMRC aims to accelerate the growth of the UK’s Customs intermediary sector. It includes funding for employee training and IT improvements for Customs intermediaries, traders and hauliers to help them prepare for the January 1, 2021 deadline – when the Brexit transition period formally ends.

Keen said that whilst BIFA welcomes the third round of funding “we can only keep our fingers crossed that it produces the thousands of additional Customs experts that the government agrees will be needed.

“During our regular meetings with both HMRC and HM Treasury, BIFA has highlighted the concerns of our members regarding the capability of the Customs brokerage sector to increase capacity, at a time when that sector faces a huge shortage of staff of suitable quality.”

He added that BIFA has regularly emphasised that it could take up to a year to train fully capable Customs staff. However, the funding could support a business that is taking on new staff, or to help train an existing employee to start taking Customs declarations for the company.

As HLFPI reported here, BIFA decided to replicate its industry training programme using video conferencing in light of Covid-19 preventing in person training.