Dover hold-ups blamed on French customs signature requests | Brexit

French customs demands for the type of signature they will accept on post-Brexit documents have been blamed by UK business leaders for causing long queues of lorries on access roads to Dover .

Two years after Boris Johnson smiled for the cameras, fountain pen in hand over the EU Withdrawal Agreement, Britain’s Chambers of Commerce (BCC) say a minor disagreement over signatures on documents customs had arisen between Great Britain and France.

William Bain, head of trade policy at the BCC, said the trade body had heard from UK exporters that French customs officials required a wet signature on border documents for shipments of animals and plant products from the UK. -United.

However, he said much of the documentation is produced digitally, creating unexpected delays in deliveries from Dover to Calais.

“One of the problems in Dover currently seems to be related to the export of food products across the Channel,” Bain said. “Like many problems, this seems to be due to a different interpretation of how trade deals work after leaving the EU.

“It’s the latest in a series of problems with the trade agreement that speak to the wider issues of interpretation, inconsistent application and glaring gaps in its coverage.”

The wet signature dispute recalls delays in the 1980s when France ordered that all foreign-made video recorders entering the country be cleared through a nine-person customs depot in Poitiers, hundreds of miles from northern ports where goods shipped from Japan dock.

In the two years since Brexit, UK exports to the EU have fallen sharply. Although economists say it is difficult to disentangle the impact of the fallout from Covid-19, which has caused severe disruption to global trade, Britain appears to have been hit harder than comparable advanced economies.

UK exports in November were 12.9% below their average level in 2018, according to consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics. By contrast, October data from the Netherlands’ Office for Economic Policy Analysis showed real goods exports from advanced economies were 1% above their 2018 average.

The BCC said on the second anniversary of Brexit, and with the “huge queues of lorries” reported in Dover last week, urgent action to improve trade with Europe was needed.

He said three-fifths of UK exporters (60%) surveyed in November reported difficulty trading with the EU, up from 49% in January 2021. The UK government has introduced comprehensive customs checks on imports from the EU EU from 1 January 2022, ending a grace period. period intended to facilitate the transition from Brexit.

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Gareth Thomas, the shadow minister for international trade, said ministers must prioritize reducing bureaucracy and delays. “If ministers do not act on the ideas of the chamber, they must explain quickly what they are going to do to keep the exchanges flowing.”

Bain said it was possible for the UK and EU to take pragmatic steps to reach new understandings on the consistent interpretation of the post-Brexit trade and cooperation agreement.

“No one expects goods to flow as freely across the Channel now as they did before Brexit. But how the trade deal is interpreted in 27 different EU countries is a major headache for UK businesses – especially smaller businesses without the cash reserves needed to set up new EU-based deals.