Uncertainty the only certainty in preparation for Brexit

The only thing we know is that it’s completely uncertain what will happen. This is how one transporter summed up the situation regarding Brexit. So many scenarios are still on the table, it’s nearly impossible to prepare for Brexit. Besides, the clock continues ticking with less than 300 days until 29 March 2019. One thing is certain: trading with the UK is going to change. How do companies prepare when uncertainty is the only thing certain? Pim Leenheer of DailyFresh logistics, Marcus Post of Post-Kogeko and Marcel van Bruggen of ABC Logistics talk about the steps they’re taking to be ready for Brexit. They mostly see opportunities, although adjustments will also be necessary.
Marcus Post:
“We see Brexit as an opportunity”
“We want to stay ahead of the situation, because logistics to the UK are our core business,” says Marcus Post, commercial manager of Post-Kogeko, about the company’s ambition. To realise this goal, a working group was started in which Marcus Post (Post-Kogeko), Michel van der Brug (Visbeen) and Pim Leenheer (DailyFresh) work together to deal with the challenge known as Brexit. But how can you stay ahead when so much is uncertain?
Simply put there are three scenarios: a soft Brexit, a middle course, or a hard Brexit. The soft Brexit, for which the situation doesn’t change, is the most improbable scenario. Both the EU and the UK see no good in this solution. The middle course would result in a trade agreement between the two parties. Additional documents will have to be filled out, but the impact is calculable. Hard Brexit, when no agreement is reached, means the UK would have to be treated as a country outside of the EU, with all its consequences. “That will result in major problems, particularly in the transport of fresh products,” Marcus says.
Pim explains using the current situation. Orders can be placed until 10 AM. At 11 o’clock, all cargo has to be received by DailyFresh in Hoek van Holland. All orders are prepared there within an hour and a half. At half past two in the afternoon, the ferry leaves for England. “We’re still early in the season now,” Pim says in the last week of May. “That means loading continues until half past one.” On that day, 42 trailers left the warehouse to catch the ferry of half past two. “Our current schedule is the quickest one possible, but Brexit will change the market.”
To organise the mass of paperwork, digital or otherwise, additional time will probably have to be scheduled. “We try to ask for as much attention as possible for Brexit, from our customers as well,” Pim continues. Not all business enterprises, on both sides of the North Sea, are aware of the consequences of Brexit yet.
The working group is also looking into what the consequences will be internally. An important aspect of that is gathering information, although they also spend much time thinking about the different scenarios. “We want to unburden our customers and make sure the customer doesn’t notice Brexit too much,” Marcus says. They’re also looking into solutions to deal with the additional customs formalities that will undoubtedly become necessary. Setting up their own department to take care of clearance is one of the solutions. “We’re keeping various scenarios in mind,” he continues. “It will not be possible to establish our own department to handle all customs formalities in March 2019 if it’s a hard Brexit. That’s why we’re also talking to a third party. Until we know more, we’ll have to assume this scenario is possible.”
Each problem has various scenarios, even the customs inspections at the ferry. Perhaps AEO certification will start to play its part, or scans could be used to inspect the lorry as quickly as possible, perhaps transporters could receive a certain status so they can clear customs more quickly, like in the Port of Rotterdam, or perhaps PortBase could play a part.
It will continue to be an uncertain future, but Marcus and Pim see opportunities as well. Transport to the UK will become more specialised, and that offers opportunities. Smaller parties could break with the market so as not to get bogged down in the mass of paper. That also offers perspective. “I’m looking forward to it,” Marcus concludes. The shortage of drivers might be a bigger problem for the transport sector. “There’s a proper shortage of drivers. The professional group is getting older, so we have to be flexible.”
Marcel van Bruggen:
“We’re prepared”
“We’re prepared for Brexit,” Marcel van Bruggen confidently says. “We’re already doing transport to Norway and Switzerland, so we can draw up documents for transport outside of the EU. We’re already dealing with customs formalities, we’re no stranger to that. The only question is whether an agreement can be reached, which would simplify the process.” The company is no stranger to phytosanitary documents, nor to inspections by the KCB. “They come here every day. I mostly think Brexit will be an opportunity to us.”
Marcel van Bruggen
As logistical partner of The Best Fresh Group, with some additional customers, the company mostly deals with grouped transport. The British market is in the top five of export countries for The Best Fresh Group. “We have multiple customers and suppliers per lorry. When customers and suppliers need their own documents, it results in a mass of paper.” Marcel has been active in the world of transport for quite some time now, and he remembers the amount of paper needed to export to East Germany and other countries outside of the European Community. “We don’t want to return to those days.”
Yet another question is still up in the air as well: will it be a physical mass of paper or a digital solution? This mostly depends on British Customs. The Dutch Customs is already operating without paper, but the situation isn’t this advanced yet in the UK. “Digitalising the flow of documents would be a major advantage, you don’t want to return to the days of physical paper. But the Brits would have to start sooner rather than later to get their systems in order.”
Marcel is consciously preparing for a doom scenario: hard Brexit. “Papers will be needed as of March 2019, but we have the knowledge, so I’m not worried.” However, he does expect slot times will have to be adjusted. The company currently works with a ‘railway timetable’ that shows exactly until which minute orders can be placed, when products have to be received and at what times lorries have to leave Poeldijk to catch the ferry. “These times might have to be adjusted, but it’s nothing we haven’t done before,” he says.
Another point of worry, also out of the transport manager’s control, is the border situation. A ferry holds about five kilometres of lorries. If all these lorries have to be physically inspected before driving onto the boat, it will result in major queues. “Nowadays, they use quick scans at the passport control at airports, so that not every passport has to be checked. If that were possible for transport as well, it would be a major benefit.”
“We’re talking to StenaLine, Eurotunnel and DFDS about the measures they’re taking,” Marcel says in conclusion. Accompanying the lorries upon departure could be a solution to shorten waiting times in the ports. Besides waiting times, another challenge is imminent: the refugee crisis in Calais. It’s been fairly calm in recent months, on the one hand because the refugee camp has been cleared, on the other because Eurotunnel expanded their site so that lorries can wait in a safe environment and queues no longer end up outside the fences. “If every lorry has to be inspected, queues will end up on the access roads again,” he says about an additional effect of border controls.
More information:
Post Kogeko
Marcus Post
Daily Fresh Logistics
Pim Leenheer
Michel van der Brug
ABC Logistics
Marcel van Bruggen