The Freight Transport Association (FTA), the UK's largest membership association for the freight and logistics sector, is today (9 October 2017) urging British and EU negotiators who are meeting in Brussels to heed the warnings from traders and logistics operators on both sides of the Channel, that post-Brexit arrangements will need time and effort if the continued smooth passage of trade is to be established.
For this reason, FTA is calling on both sides to recognise that transitional arrangements should be a priority in the negotiations, and on Mr Barnier to advise the EU-27 heads of state and government to review his mandate accordingly later in October.
"For trade to continue to flow freely between the EU and the UK post-Brexit, it is now imperative that the arrangements involving the passage of goods are given urgent priority by the negotiation teams," says Pauline Bastidon, FTA's Head of European Policy. "To assume that trade can continue to move by default, as it currently does across the Channel, ignores the vast amount of work still to be done to develop robust and business friendly procedures for imports and exports. Much work is needed to ensure that the necessary infrastructure and processes are in place, to avoid massive delays at logistics nodes, and that authorities and businesses are ready to cope with new arrangements. IT systems need to be adapted, and authorities need to recruit and train additional customs officials, for instance, which cannot be done in the flick of an eyelid. To ignore the situation any further puts the UK and Europe's future trading opportunities on a knife edge – this is fact, not fiction.
"Just last week, the Port of Dover warned that doubling the current time taken to process customs paperwork for one lorry leaving the UK, from two minutes to four minutes, would delay the system so much that queues of more than 17 miles of traffic will build up across the motorway networks in the UK and France within a matter of hours. This cannot be allowed to happen, not least to ensure that products destined for the UK's manufacturing and retail sectors continue to pass across borders with ease."
Ms Bastidon also cautions negotiators to pay close attention to the need for seamless arrangements to allow road transport companies to operate across borders. She continues:
"Much like aviation, road freight has no real safety net in case of a no deal, cliff-edge type of exit. The default situation for operators if no agreement or transition is in place is to be forced to rely on a system of permits under OECD. The number of these permits, called 'ECMT permits', is extremely limited and very far from covering the post-Brexit needs of traders and logistics companies on both sides of the border. For instance, the UK contingent would cover only 3% of current UK vehicles with a community license, and the same goes for other European countries. This is in no way a suitable solution.
"Trade and logistics deserve the support, time and consideration of the negotiators to ensure that sufficient time is available to find suitable solutions to these concrete issues, so that costly, time-consuming delays which will ultimately cost businesses significantly can be prevented."
FTA represents the businesses that use or operate freight by any and all modes. Its members operate half of the UK's lorry fleet (more than 200,000 vehicles) and consign 90% of the goods moved by rail, and 70% of the country's visible exports by sea and air. The sector contributes 11% of the UK's non-financial business economy. In 2016, 2.54 million people were employed in logistics in the UK, approximately 8% of the nation's workforce.