The 1st of January will see the most fundamental change in Ireland's trading relationship with the UK and companies need to use the final weeks to ensure they are prepared. So says Emer O'Byrne, senior executive with Enterprise Ireland's Brexit Unit.
"This has been a difficult challenging year for Irish businesses," says Ms O'Byrne. "An immense amount of time and energy has been deployed to respond to the impact of Covid-19. However, Irish business also needs to respond to the other enormous challenge that will happen in less than a month when Brexit becomes a reality. From January 1st, companies that move goods to, from or through the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) will be faced with new customs procedures and they need to prepare for them now."
Fortunately, it's not too late to get Brexit-ready. Enterprise Ireland has developed a Brexit Readiness Checker that's available HERE.
The Readiness Checker provides a framework that simply outlines the steps that need to be taken to be ready for Brexit and signposts actions that every company should take in the coming weeks.
"Companies need up-to-date accessible information about what they need to do in relation to Brexit. That's why we developed the Brexit Readiness Checker. It takes ten to fifteen minutes to complete and is simple and straightforward. It explains some of the key terms that businesses will be dealing with post-January 1st. For example, it explains the importance of commodity codes and country of origin rules.
"When you have completed our online tool, you will receive by email a personalised plan for your company as to what you need to do. Not only will you be given a plan, you will also be told where to go to get more information and what supports are available. We often say this is not the time to panic, this is the time to act and the Brexit Readiness Checker gives companies the tools and information they need to take action."
"The first thing is to get your EORI (economic operator registration identification) number. That is what is going to allow you to import or export with countries outside the EU. You get the number by going to the Irish Revenue online site."
The second step is to find out the commodity code for your product or products. This classifies goods into different commodity groups. "It's really important to have. You will need it for all of your customs documentation."
The third most important step is to identify who is going to manage your company's customs procedure. "Is it something that the company is going to do in-house or will it do it through a broker or an intermediary like a customs agent?"
Ms O'Byrne says that recent Enterprise Ireland analysis indicates that only 30% of companies have decided who is going to look after the customs procedures.
"That figure should be higher. This is a critical decision to make and it can't be put off. Companies need to assess their own capacity and the skills available to them to manage new customs procedures. They also need to speak to their customs agent, if they have one, to ensure they are prepared for January 1st. Customs agents and their customers also need to know how the new customs process will work - for example, what information do companies need to provide to agents to ensure that their goods flow smoothly? These conversations need to happen now, not when issues arise or shipments are disrupted."
Enterprise Ireland has grants available for companies that decide to manage customs procedures in-house.
"Our Ready for Customs grant is an important support for business. Where a company takes on a new employee to manage their customs procedures full-time, they can avail of up to €9,000 to assist with recruitment costs, employee costs or the provision of IT infrastructure. If an existing employee is deployed into a customs role, the grant can also be used to cover costs associated with that change."
The application process for the grant is straightforward. If companies are recruiting or redeploying five staff to deal with customs, they can apply for the grant for each employee. A reduced grant is available for people engaged in customs work part-time.
The financial support is not just for companies engaged with business activity with and through the UK. It is also proving very attractive for companies in the freight and haulage sector who will manage a large amount of the customs procedures for their clients.
The Ready for Customs grant is just one of the supports offered by Enterprise Ireland to assist companies in a post Brexit trading environment. Other supports focus on market diversification. enhancing competitiveness and securing advice from market and trade experts. Information on all these supports is available on www.prepareforbrexit.com.
Ms O'Byrne also emphasised that other government agencies offer supports for companies such as the 'Clear Customs' training course provided by SkillNet Ireland and the Prepare your Business for Customs course available through the Local Enterprise Office.
She says that come January 1st, we will be in a new trading environment with the UK. "The UK is a major trading partner for Ireland. We have business and customer relationships that, in many cases, have been built up over decades. Trade between our islands is vital and will continue to be important to the Irish economy for years to come. That is why we need to prepare for the new trading landscape. I would urge every company to act now - advice and support is available but you need to take the first step."
Emerald Freight Express, one of Ireland's leading freight forwarders, is ship-shape for January 1st when the country's trading relationship with the UK will change fundamentally. With all eyes on what the New Year will mean for goods being shipped to, from and through the UK, Emerald Freight Express is set to provide new customs services to new customers. And it has expanded the customs services it offers existing ones also.
To ensure the quality of the service is maintained for all customers, the company had to invest considerably in personnel, office space and IT systems.
"When the Brexit vote happened, we had a huge volume of enquiries from people panicking about what they were going to do," says Anna Barden, financial director at Emerald Freight Express. The staff team worked with each caller, assisting them on decisions they needed to make about issues such as who was going to handle customs clearances and the need to get an EORI number or register for UK VAT.
"Unfortunately, the past year has been very challenging for all of them because of Covid, but it is important to stay focused and put the right processes in place. There is a little window of time in which to do it but everybody needs to have their house in order as quickly as possible."
Ms Barden adds that from January 1st, customs declarations and POOs (Proof of Origins) will be required. Importers and exporters will have to be fully compliant with the new requirements.
She says: "With recruitment costs, IT costs and training costs, we have had an enormous outlay in terms of getting ready for Brexit. But it was really important to ensure we continued to service our existing clients and new ones, to the highest standards. This was an investment we had to make. The Ready for Customs grant allowed us that cushion we needed to get it done."
Ms Barden says that application process for the grant "was very straightforward and we got confirmation of approval within two weeks. We have the skills and the systems in place now to deal with anything that is going to happen on January 1st.
For Enterprise Ireland's 'Ready for Customs' grants and supports and insights into Brexit preparedness, see: www.prepareforbrexit.com.
To receive a personalised report to help assess your current readiness status and prioritise your actions before Jan 1st, complete Enterprise Ireland's Brexit Readiness Checker here.
For enquiries about the Ready for Customs grant, call the Enterprise Ireland Brexit Unit on.