Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam, is counting down to Brexit. “In about 200 days’ time, if nothing else happens… we will need to supervise all the goods coming in and out of the U.K. market,” says Roel van ’t Veld, Brexit coordinator at the Dutch customs authority.
Hard Brexit or soft? Chequers dead or alive? Does “max-fac” make any sense? The feverish debate in Westminster is distant for officials in Rotterdam, who are working on the assumption the U.K. will leave the EU’s single market and customs union on 29 March 2019.
At the stroke of midnight, the U.K. will become another country to its EU neighbours. Rotterdam will have to run checks on 10,500 newly “foreign” boats. Officials expect a 30-percent increase in import inspections and a 100-percent increase in export inspections. Ferry operators warn of form-filling and delays. While a transition period could delay those changes until 2021, nothing is being taken for granted.
Companies are “spoiled” by the ease of trading within the EU’s internal market, van ’t Veld says. Take a Dutch company that makes ready meals for British consumers. Today it needs only a contract with a shop. In future, companies on both sides of the North Sea would need production location registration, an export declaration, exit and entry declarations and more.
“Instead of two pieces of documentation you would need nine additional documents,” says van ’t Veld, based on his reading of the U.K. customs bill. “In 200 days’ time, you cannot just send a ship, and if you don’t anticipate those changes, ships will not get through the gates.” (Since he spoke this month, more days have slipped by.)
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