Supermarkets tell suppliers to prepare for post-Brexit customs checks

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Supermarkets have been urging small suppliers to train up their staff as new post-Brexit customs checks come into force on Jan 1, amid fears of a wave of delays as companies grapple with red tape.

Several major grocers have written to suppliers in Europe to warn them of increased paperwork on exports to Britain in the new year.

Chains have also set up online training sessions and shared checklists to help businesses transport products efficiently from the European Union to the UK.

Full customs checks take effect on Saturday for the first time since the country left the EU, with suppliers largely responsible for filling out forms until their goods reach depots in the UK.

One source at a major supermarket said: “It’s the small wine supplier that sells us four products or the cheese company that might sell one box of brie that we’ve been supporting a lot more.

“We’re not worried about us – the issues at the border happen when you’ve got smaller one-man bands. They could be the hold-up.”

Meanwhile, a trade body has warned that one in 10 lorries arriving at the UK border could be turned away as a result of new checks despite ministers pledging to take a pragmatic approach.

Logistics UK said disruption could be at a similar level to last January, with the onus falling on European companies to be prepared for new regulations that include pre-notification of arrival.

Alex Veitch, the organisation’s deputy director, said haulage companies are “as prepared as they can be”, but smaller businesses are more likely to see their hauliers turned away over incorrect or missing paperwork.

He added: “We definitely expect a few bumps and a few turn backs. It would be an astonishing achievement if every single [load] got through from tomorrow, because it is a big change.”

Sources in the industry, however, said the Government is keen to avoid disruption. 

An insider said: “They will initially say, ‘you don’t have the right paperwork’, but they won’t turn your back at the very start.”

Some of the most onerous checks are not coming in until July, allowing companies to prepare more extensively.

A pre-notification for sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) goods for plant-based products and those of animal origin, for example, will only be required six months from now.

One company said: “We can’t obviously predict what will happen tomorrow but this is an easier change for suppliers to deal with at this time of year.”

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