COMPLICATED customs and trade regulations are serious barriers to cross-border trade and a source of very serious risks, according to 83.4 per cent of importers and exporters.

The “hidden risk” of border compliance is a serious issue, not just now but after Brexit when the HMRC has estimated that that the total number of customs declarations will undergo a fivefold increase from 60 million per year to 300 million.

It’s also a significant opportunity for customs and trade advisors, and one grasped quickly and innovatively by Catherine Truel, an adviser in global trade and customs compliance. Currently doing a PhD, Truel is doing a comparative research of EU customs law with Canada and Switzerland systems and is finding a common denominator; SMEs are struggling to understand their legal requirements.

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Truel says border compliance is nicknamed the “hidden risk” because traders are often taken by surprise by their compliance requirements. They usually learn though pain. Either goods are stuck in customs, duty rates are higher than expected or they have a customs audit.

The consequences are shipment delays, disruption in the supply chain, waste of time, increase costs, financial penalties and unhappy customers, says Truel. Their main challenges are interpreting rules across borders, changing governments’ requirements and dealing with antiquated import and export processes and systems.

Truel’s fledgling business Alegrant is developing an online platform to connect importers and exporters with vetted experts in global trade and customs compliance so they can access fast and affordable advice. Officially to be launched later this year, the service is currently used by some companies worldwide that have participated in the testing of the prototype and has already won awards.

Truel believes Brexit, like most changes, is both an opportunity and a challenge.

“Some new trade agreements will open new markets so this will clearly bring new opportunities for exporters. At the same time, some trade agreements will disappear so this will be a challenge for companies sourcing their products from these countries. But trade is a natural human activity, traders will adapt. Uncertainty and the lack of predictability are more problematic.”

But Truel does hope for “very little change”, which she believes will benefit her customers in the first instance. “We are currently going through a massive change of rules with a new EU customs code that entered into force in May 2016. We are still trying to adapt to this and some companies have faced huge costs to adapt their systems. The last thing we want is to go through all this again, at least not in the near future. HMRC also needs time to adapt the systems they have just modified to meet the requirements of the new EU customs code. They estimate that of the 57 systems they operate at the border, to be ready by Day One of Brexit, 24 of them may require some changes. I would very much favour a transition period where the current rules continue to apply for a while to keep everyone sane.”

Michelle Rodger is a communications consultant