Body calls on Northern Ireland companies to take vital steps to ensure trade with EU after Brexit
Northern Ireland businesses are being urged to take two crucial steps to ensure they can trade after Brexit.
The plea comes one day after a new survey from AIB revealed that 51% of small and medium sized businesses have not yet started planning for Brexit.
That was despite 48% of the 200 firms surveyed stating that Brexit was already having an impact on their business now, and 59% stating that they expect Brexit to have a negative effect on their business in the future.
Chartered Accountants Ireland has called on Northern Ireland firms to register for an EORI number and assess whether or not they have gaps in customs knowledge that could prevent them from trading with the EU after the UK leaves the bloc.
An Economic Operator and Registration Identification (EORI) number is a EU identifier for businesses which undertake the import or export of goods into or out of the EU.
Richard Gillan, who chairs the Chartered Accountants Ulster Society, said that while customs knowledge is critical, obtaining a customs registration or an EORI number is the first step that businesses must take to be able to continue to trade with the EU after Brexit.
"Without an EORI number, Northern Ireland businesses will not be able to trade with the EU after Brexit," he said.
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"Getting an EORI number takes five minutes online with HMRC and while it should be the starting point in terms of their plans it should be by no means the only thing they should do.
"Businesses need to look at customs software, get familiar with customs returns and think about who will do the customs administration for trade with the EU."
Mr Gillan said that regardless of whether customs duties apply, in order to move goods between the UK and the EU, traders will need to have customs expertise and third party software to file such declarations with the HMRC.
Otherwise, he added, they will need to hire an agent such as a broker or freight forwarder to do this on their behalf.
"No matter what form Brexit will take, traders need to file customs returns with HMRC before they can trade goods with the EU," Mr Gillan said.
"The returns need to be completed correctly; otherwise goods could be detained at ports and borders because HMRC officials will need to check that the proper declarations are in place."
While UK businesses are required to apply the same processes to EU trade that apply when trading with the rest of the world, HMRC estimate that customs declarations will increase fivefold to over 250 million per year once the UK leaves the EU.
"Businesses need to be proactive in their preparations to be able to complete paperwork," stressed Mr Gillan.
"While some traders are experienced in the customs formalities required to import and export to the rest of the world, it will be a first for many other businesses, particularly the smaller enterprises.
"We are urging these businesses to use the time between now and October 31 to upskill in the area of customs."