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Hauliers rush to get up to speed on UK trade border controls

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The UK government published more than 300 pages of updated advice setting out how the new trade border with the EU will operate just hours before it came into force, leading business groups to plead for leniency in enforcement in the coming months.

The eleventh-hour document published on New Year’s Eve included 70 pages of case histories and complex flow diagrams explaining the new trade processes required to export goods to Europe, including 26 “key steps” for sending fish.

It arrived hours after Boris Johnson was repeatedly challenged in the Commons by opposition leaders over his assertion that his Brexit trade deal with Europe would remove “non-tariff barriers” at the border.

Industry and hauliers that are exposed to EU trade risks have repeatedly demanded clarity from the government over new processes which came into force on Friday. HMRC has estimated trade will entail more than 215m additional customs declarations a year. 

Rod McKenzie, the managing director for policy at the Road Haulage Association said the late release of the documents typified the government approach to communications during the run-up to the new Brexit border coming into effect.

“Traders and hauliers have been continually let down by government communications: late, inadequate, unclear and confusing. This certainly qualifies in the ‘late’ category. Businesses like to plan their logistics not find it’s all left to the very last minute,” he said.

The combination of pre-Christmas stockpiling and some operators staying off the roads until new processes have settled down is expected to minimise immediate problems with trade, but ministers have warned of the risk of disruption in the first three months of 2021 as businesses adjust.

The document sets out in immense detail the new processes that will be required to move goods across the border, which will now include customs forms, export health certificates for animal and plant products and a host of other regulatory documentation.

For fish and shellfish moving into the EU from January 1, the document explains UK exporters will need to register for a GB economic operator, or “EORI” number for processing customs documentation, obtain catch certificates, UK boat registrations and complete export vet-certified EU health certificates to ensure compliance with EU rules.

To ensure the goods are safely received on the other side, the company will need an EU EORI number from the importing member state, a Common Health Entry Document and an entry into TRACES, the EU system for certifying traded animal products.

At the same time the haulier will need to have completed an Entry Summary Declaration in order to pre-declare the inbound consignment with EU customs in whichever is the country of destination — in case of France it is the “SI Brexit” computer system, but each EU member state uses different software.

Once all the paperwork is complete, the haulier must apply for a Kent Access Permit to travel to the Channel ports and can then board the ferry to the EU, assuming the paperwork is found to be correct at check-in. Drivers are notified during the crossing if they must stop for inspection on arrival.

Goods coming from the EU will be subject to controls phased in over a six-month period as part of a unilateral UK measure to try to maintain the flow of traffic and give businesses time to adjust. 

British exporters of food and drink products will be particularly hard hit by the new rules, but manufacturers will also need to comply with a long list of new requirements in order to demonstrate that their products comply with EU rules and are sufficiently UK-made to qualify for zero-tariff entry into the bloc’s single market.

Despite pleas from business group leaders for the deal to include grace periods, the new rules will come into force immediately on the EU side, leading to calls for a flexible approach from the enforcement authorities on both sides of the channel.

Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the information had “come quite late in the day” and warned it would take many businesses time to get to grips with the detail.

“Both the UK and EU need to put maximum emphasis on flow across borders in these early months, and ease compliance pressures on businesses wherever they can,” he said. 



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Europe

FT 1000: Europe’s Fastest Growing Companies

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The latest annual ranking of businesses by revenue growth. Explore the 2021 list here — the full report including in-depth analysis and case studies will be published on March 22



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EU plans digital vaccine passports to boost travel

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Brussels is to propose a personal electronic coronavirus vaccination certificate in an effort to boost travel around the EU once the bloc’s sluggish immunisation drive gathers pace.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, said on Monday the planned “Digital Green Pass” would provide proof of inoculation, test results of those not yet jabbed, and information on the holder’s recovery if they had previously had the disease.

“The Digital Green Pass should facilitate Europeans‘ lives,” von der Leyen wrote in a tweet on Monday. “The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the European Union or abroad — for work or tourism.”

The plan, expected to be outlined this month, is a response to a push by Greece and some other EU member states to introduce EU “vaccination passports” to help revive the region’s devastated travel industry and wider economy. 

But the commission’s proposed measures will be closely scrutinised over concerns including privacy, the chance that even inoculated people can spread Covid-19, and possible discrimination against those who have not had the opportunity to be immunised.

In an immediate sign of potential opposition, Sophie Wilmès, Belgium’s foreign minister, raised concerns about the plan. She said that while the idea of a standardised European digital document to gather the details outlined by von der Leyen was a good one, the decision to style it a “pass” was “confusing”. 

“For Belgium, there is no question of linking vaccination to the freedom of movement around Europe,” Wilmès wrote in a tweet. “Respect for the principle of non-discrimination is more fundamental than ever since vaccination is not compulsory and access to the vaccine is not yet generalised.”

The travel sector tentatively welcomed the news of Europe-wide vaccine certification as a way to rebuild confidence ahead of the crucial summer season, but warned that regular and rapid testing was a more efficient and immediate way to allow the industry to restart.

Fritz Joussen, chief executive of Tui, Europe’s largest tour operator, said “with a uniform EU certificate, politicians can now create an important basis for summer travel”. But he added that testing remained “the second important building block for safe holidays” while large numbers of Europeans awaited a jab.

Marco Corradino, chief executive of online travel agent Lastminute.com, said he feared the infrastructure needed would not be ready in time for the summer season: “It will not work . . . at EU level because it is too complicated and would not be in place by June.”

He suggested that bilateral deals, such as the one agreed between Greece and Israel in February to allow vaccinated citizens to travel without the need to show a negative test result, had more potential.

Vaccine passport sceptics argue it would be unfair to restrict people’s travel rights simply because they are still waiting for their turn to be jabbed. 

Gloria Guevara, CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said it was important not to discriminate against less advanced countries and younger travellers, or those who simply cannot or choose not to be vaccinated. “Future travel is about a combination of measures such as comprehensive testing, mask-wearing, enhanced health and hygiene protocols as well as digital passes for specific journeys,” she added.

A European Commission target to vaccinate 70 per cent of the bloc’s 446m residents by September means many people are likely to go through summer unimmunised.

While some countries around the world have long required visitors to be vaccinated against infectious diseases such as yellow fever, a crucial difference with coronavirus is that those inoculations are available to travellers on demand. 

Questions also remain about the risk of people who have already been vaccinated passing on coronavirus if they contract the disease.

 





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EU must prepare for ‘era of pandemics’, von der Leyen says

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Europe must prepare its medical sector to cope with an “era of pandemics”, the European Commission president said, as she warned the bloc was still in its most difficult period for Covid-19 vaccine deliveries. 

Ursula von der Leyen told the Financial Times that the EU could not afford to sit still even once Covid-19 has been overcome, as she described her plans for a Europewide fast-reaction system designed to respond more quickly to emerging medical threats. 

“Europe is determined to enlarge its strength in vaccine production,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s an era of pandemics we are entering. If you look at what has been happening over the past few years, I mean from HIV to Ebola to MERS to SARS, these were all epidemics which could be contained, but we should not think it is all over when we’ve overcome Covid-19. The risk is still there.” 

Von der Leyen last month unveiled plans for a biodefence preparedness plan called the HERA Incubator, which will combine researchers, biotech companies, manufacturers and public authorities to monitor emerging threats and work on adapting vaccines. This will become part of a Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). 

The concept is an attempt to mirror some of the benefits conferred by America’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is charged with the job of responding rapidly to new health threats.

“The US has a strong advantage by having BARDA . . . this is an infrastructure Europe did not have,” von der Leyen said. “But Europe has to build up to be prepared for whatever comes, and also for the next possible pandemics. This is the HERA incubator.” 

The EU remains within its “most difficult quarter without any question” for vaccine deliveries, she said, cautioning “many, many problems” could always occur within the production process.

Looking towards the second quarter, she pointed out that a second EU contract with BioNTech/Pfizer for their vaccine would kick in, alongside the new jab from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to be authorised in March.

In an EU summit on Thursday, von der Leyen addressed vaccine production and the threat of virus mutations after a rocky start to the year, when she was hit by complaints from politicians in member states, including Germany, about supply shortfalls. 

Von der Leyen acknowledged to the European Parliament in early February that mistakes had been made in the EU’s vaccination effort, and the campaign remains behind those of the US and UK. Among the difficulties are continued production problems at AstraZeneca’s European facilities. 

Von der Leyen said she was sticking with the EU’s target for the delivery of 300m doses in the second quarter, saying the challenge will shift from vaccine production to national rollouts. As for AstraZeneca’s shipments, she said: “I need to see the proof of the pudding . . . It’s very good that they also delivered from the rest of the world, but they have to honour their contract and we want our fair share.”

Ursula Von der Leyen says she is sticking with the EU’s target for the delivery of 300m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the second quarter © Remo Casilli/Reuters

The good news for the EU is its access to mRNA technology, which is used in the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and which scientists believe can be used to rapidly adapt to mutations, said von der Leyen. 

But she also supported French president Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to share up to 5 per cent of supplies to permit the vaccination of healthcare workers in developing countries.

“We all suffer from the fact that the scaling up was not and is not as rapid as we thought at the beginning. This has a general effect all over the world,” she said. “With production picking up I think we should never forget that only if everybody has access to vaccines will we overcome this virus.”

Von der Leyen added that the EU needed to be particularly concerned about developments in its immediate area. 

“The mutant story is worrying me the most,” she said. “When the virus is still raging in the neighbourhood, the probability that mutants will occur, that will come back, for example, to Europe, is only rising.”



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