Only a quarter of small British importers are ready for new border controls on imports from the EU that will be imposed in four weeks, a trade body has warned, sparking fears of further disruption to supply chains immediately after Christmas.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) also warned there was a lack of capacity among small companies to handle the new paperwork.
From January 1, companies will no longer be able to delay making import customs declarations for EU goods, and will instead have to make declarations and pay relevant tariffs at the point of import. Notice of imports of food, drink and products of animal origin will also be needed to be given in advance.
A FSB survey showed that only one in four small importers were ready for the changes, while one in eight of the importers said they were unable to prepare for the introduction of checks.
A third said they were unaware of the changes before the FSB study, but would be affected by them.
FSB national chair Mike Cherry said few businesses were fully prepared for the introduction of import controls from January given “the turmoil of the past 18 months, concerns about the spread of Covid, and this being the busiest time of year”.
He urged business to refrain from stockpiling, however, saying that there was “already a squeeze on warehousing space — if everyone ramps up storage, that squeeze will only tighten”.
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In recent days the government has said that companies should consider how they are going to submit customs declarations and pay any duties. Unless goods have a valid declaration and have received customs clearance, they will not be able to be released into circulation, and in most cases will not be able to leave the port.
Goods may be directed to an inland border facility for documentary or physical checks if these checks cannot be done at the border.
Meanwhile, supplier declarations will be needed for the first time to export goods to the EU using tariff preferences — a reduced rate of customs duty granted as long as there is proof of origin.
Commodity codes used worldwide to classify goods that are imported and exported will also change on January 1.
The FSB has called on the government to further raise awareness “in a climate where a lot of small firms simply don’t have the cash or bandwidth to manage this new red tape”.
It also wants ministers to introduce a new SME Brexit support fund to help businesses that import and export with paperwork and regulations.