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Businesses re-opening after lockdown still ‘not as prepared as they need to be' for Brexit

The remarks were made at an Oireachtas committee today.

A view of cranes at Dublin Port (file photo)
A view of cranes at Dublin Port (file photo)
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

BUSINESSES WHICH ARE reopening for the first time this year due to the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions must get up to speed with post-Brexit trade arrangements, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Revenue Commissioner and Director-General of Customs Gerry Harrahill said it has been “extremely challenging” for businesses trying to adjust to the new reality of customs checks since the trade rules changed on 1 January and that many businesses were “not as a prepared as they needed to be”.

He added that there were some businesses who would be dealing with these challenges in the coming weeks for the first time because until now they have been closed due to public health restrictions.

Harrahill told the Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU that it was now almost 20 weeks since the practical impacts of the UK being outside of the EU’s customs union and single market have taken effect.

“Unfortunately, some businesses were not as prepared for Brexit as they needed to be because the necessary preparations were not completed and, in some instances, weren’t even started in advance of 1 January,” he said.

“For some, this was because of the late stage at which the Trade and Cooperation Agreement was finalised and a misunderstanding that an agreement would mean no customs formalities, or because of a lack of clarity on what the UK formalities would entail after 1 January or because of an understandable focus on meeting the immediate challenge of Covid-19.”

He added that once 1 January had passed, it was “extremely challenging” for businesses trying to adapt their business model in real time for something that had already happened.

He warned other businesses may still need to adapt to the new trading environment.

“While businesses have made enormous progress in adapting to the new requirements in the four month period, we need to be aware that other businesses, who because of significant stockpiling or perhaps because they have been closed due to Covid-19 may encounter similar challenges when the economy reopens over the coming months,” he said.

“There is also a need for businesses to prepare to comply with the UK formalities that, although delayed, will be introduced from October onwards.”

The committee heard that since 1 January, Revenue had dealt with some 115,000 freight movements into Dublin Port, 82% of which have been green routed on arrival meaning they passed freely through the port without the need for any additional interaction with Revenue or any other State Agency.

About 10,000 freight movements had also arrived in Rosslare from Great Britain and on average 85% of those movements were green routed.

Complexity ‘not anticipated’

Harrahill was among a number of representatives from state agencies discussing the on Withdrawal of UK from EU will discuss customs checks and trade flows at Irish ports.

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Hazel Sheridan, Head of Import Controls Operations at the Department of Agriculture, said in the first 15 weeks of this year the department had carried out 13,000 checks at Dublin Port and a further 670 had been conducted at Rosslare Port.

In comparison last year it conducted about 3,500 checks a Dublin Port in a 12-month period.

The HSE’s national director for National Services Joe Ryan said in advance of Brexit the HSE had recruited and trained over 110 additional Environmental Health Officers and admin staff specifically for import controls at Dublin Port and Rosslare Europort border control posts.

He said Brexit had presented significant challenges and new ways of working for many import businesses, and it was clear that despite early engagement, “many importers did not anticipate the level of complexity on 1 January”.

In the first quarter of this year, the HSE undertook checks on almost 14,000 consignments between Dublin and Rosslare with over 11,000 of these consignments arriving from Great Britain.

In the same period last year checks were completed on 891 consignments. The vast majority of these consignments were cleared for release.

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