International trade experts at Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce are helping hundreds of Staffordshire firms to do business overseas following the UK’s exit from the EU.
The organisation has spent ‘tens of thousands of pounds’ training its 10-strong international trade team in the run-up to Brexit, to allow them to support businesses of all shapes and sizes with import and exporting.
Since January 1, it has processed an average of 1,000 customs declarations – an official document that lists and gives details of goods that are being imported and exported – every month.
But that number has now started to increase as businesses return to work and begin to operate at pre-pandemic levels.
Today Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce is one of the busiest organisations among those who make up a national Chamber customs network.
Director of International Trade, Rob Lawley said: “We have been getting staff trained up for the last 18 months in readiness for this. We knew whether there was a trade deal or not that, because we were leaving the Customs Union, then customs declarations would need to be made.
“There used to be about 50 million customs declarations every year for the rest of the world – which is anywhere outside of the EU, but because companies now need them for import and export to the EU that’s gone up to about 350 million declarations.
“There wasn’t enough custom brokers to do this so we thought that this is something we could do as a Chamber of Commerce. We spent tens of thousands of pounds training staff up so we could offer this as a service to local businesses.”
Rob admits that the majority of companies his team has had to deal with have struggled to find customs agents to support them with the new regulations which has led to an increase in inquires at Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce.
He said: “It used to be really simple selling into the EU, the process would be the same as if you were selling to Manchester, but that all changed overnight and companies really weren’t prepared.
“Some of the bigger companies who were used to doing customs declarations had a bit of an idea about what was required, but the vast majority of companies didn’t really know what to do, so we were taking one call after another after another.”
BusinessLive is your home for business news from around the country – and you can stay in touch with all the latest news through our email alerts.
You can sign up to receive daily morning news bulletins from every region we cover and to weekly email bulletins covering key economic sectors from manufacturing to technology and enterprise. And we’ll send out breaking news alerts for any stories we think you can’t miss.
Visit our email preference centre to sign up to all the latest news from BusinessLive.
Rob added: “We are Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, so first and foremost we want to look after Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire companies, but we’ve had loads of businesses which have found us online.
“We are dealing with companies across all sectors.
“Some have really struggled to move their goods overseas and the pandemic obviously hasn’t helped.”
And while the need for customs declarations has presented a number of challenges for businesses across the country, Rob believes that Brexit has brought about some opportunities for those looking to trade overseas.
He said: “There’s now very little difference in shipping to the EU and shipping to the rest of the world, so there’s no reason businesses shouldn’t be looking at markets which are further afield such as USA, India and Australia.
“But we are painfully aware that there are a lot of Staffordshire businesses out there who don’t know we can do this for them, and they’re struggling.”