BIFA and ASM speak out on Brexit concerns

06 / 04 / 2017

  • Left to right: Peter MacSwiney, chairman of ASM UK; Robert Keen, BIFA director general; Robert Windsor, BIFA director

Robert Keen, director general of the British International Freight Association (BIFA), has told delegates at the ‘Brexit Briefing’, part of the ongoing 3-day Multimodal 2017 event in Birmingham, the UK, that no-one really knows what the effect on trade will be of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and its economic community.

“We, like most people, have heard all sorts of facts and figures, but really we don’t know any more than we did on June 23,” he said.

“We have tried not to speculate too much as we don’t know very much.”

Despite being unwilling to commit himself on the possible implications of Brexit, he is nevertheless keen to represent BIFA members’ interests in the process of withdrawal, which took its first significant step at the end of last month (March) when Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50.

And this is by no means the first time that BIFA, and Keen, have spoken publicly about Brexit concerns.

In February, for example, Keen said: “BIFA is in frequent discussions with the UK Government about the possible implications of Brexit to try and find answers to some of the questions about international trade that arise from the UK’s decision to leave the EU.”

BIFA is trying to represent the concerns of its members to the UK Government, while Agency Sector Management (ASM) – which describes itself as “providing unbiased representation to give forwarders a voice where it matters, with the people who shape the international trade environment – is dealing with technical issues.

ASM was formed in September 1986 by the Institute of Freight Forwarders (now BIFA). It was set up primarily to protect the technology-related interests of freight forwarders at a time of significant change in the forwarding and customs environment in the UK.

It is now a completely independent company but has continued to play an active role in representing forwarders’ interests in discussions with both government and industry bodies.

In that regard, at the Brexit Briefing ASM chairman Peter MacSwiney outlined some of the ways in which BIFA and ASM are interacting with government agencies, in particular via the Joint Customs Clearance Committee (JCCC).

BIFA is a member of JCCC, the overarching body for customs legislation in the UK, with MacSwiney acting as joint chair of a Brexit sub-committee.

He said that a frictionless border remains the highest priority; thus, the sub-committee is looking at what the UK needs to do in order to achieve that.

Preventing delays at borders will be vital, such that “We do not get a traffic jam from Paris to Stoke-on-Trent,” he said.

“This means we need goods customs-cleared before they reach the ferry or Channel Tunnel.”

MacSwiney pointed out that the UK has spent the last 40 years aligning its systems with those of the rest of Europe, so: “It would be a shame to throw that all away – to put it mildly.”

For instance, he would like the UK to retain the Single Transit Contract so that, by way of example, in the case of a consignment moving from London Heathrow to New York via Paris, the port of EU export would continue to be deemed to be Heathrow.

He remains positive, however.

All in all: “I think we are going to be OK. We are engaging fully with customs and they are listening to us. In the UK, we have a history of sorting it out,” MacSwiney opined.