UK forwarders, training for a new Customs system and waiting for Brexit clarity

Robert Keen, BIFA director general

UK freight forwarders are preparing for the introduction of a new Customs Declaration System (CDS) which is due to go fully live in January 2019, but await political clarity on the additional challenge of Britain leaving the European Union (EU).
Only this week, the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) warned that "significant challenges" remain in the implementation of the CDS by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
NAO acknowledged that HMRC has taken steps to mitigate risks in the final year of its programme to replace its existing customs system, CHIEF (Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight), with CDS.
Robert Keen, director general of the freight forwarder association BIFA, has outlined the cooperation with HMRC and the staff training its members are undertaking ahead of CDS implementation.
Said Keen: "There’s no doubt this is a major change so we have been encouraging BIFA members to get as involved as possible at the earliest stage. We have got involved ourselves, just as the information roll-out has started and there is information on our website.
"We are in the midst of presentations to BIFA members in association with the industry-owned software provider ASM and HMRC. We see our role as supporting HMRC so would not wish to speculate on whether it will be operational at a specific time as this is not a ‘Big Bang’ but will be phased, with CHIEF remaining online."
Around 380 BIFA Members attended three CDS presentations in June, said Keen, with a further 470 attending similar events over the next two weeks in Essex and central London. There will then be a further schedule of presentations in Belfast, Glasgow and Heathrow booked for August, with others planned for Kent and Felixstowe.
Keen continued: "Of course, we realise that government IT projects can overrun or exceed budget but it is coming and everyone needs to learn as much as they can, as there are significant changes in the way customs entries are processed.
"People should never forget that BIFA members are innovative and resourceful people. On many past occasions when there have been concerns about whether a new system will work (e.g. the introduction of SOLAS Container weighing in July 2016), it is the freight forwarders that sort out the problems."
On the topic of Brexit, Keen observed: "Our sector’s concerns are more to do with what happens if there is a cliff edge Brexit at the same time [as CDS implementation]. Unfortunately, we don’t know what will be happening post Brexit and it may be necessary for forwarders to hire and train more staff depending on the new scenario, if there is one. So, coping with a hard Brexit and CDS at the same time could stretch capabilities.
"We have tried to avoid speculation on Brexit, preferring to wait until we know what’s happening. It’s a long wait but until the politics is/are sorted out we can’t make any plans."

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