Calais is prepared for Brexit, however many firms are usually not: French customs

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A truck boarding a Eurotunnel cargo shuttle at the Coquelles Eurotunnel terminal near Calais

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By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) – Many European companies are yet to face the new bureaucracy that will be mandatory for trade with the UK after January 1st, the French customs chief warned, as there is a risk that the queues of European trucks will be rejected by the French Port of Calais is looming.

Whether or not London and Brussels reach a trade deal at the current stage of the talks, in just over two months the UK will be leaving the transitional regime that has allowed it to trade freely with the European Union since it closed the bloc in February has officially left.

This means that every year around five million trucks crossing the canal suddenly have to present documents to customs officials before they can drive through the tunnel or take ferries between the UK and the continent. Dover-Calais is the shortest sea route.

“We are of the opinion that we are ready with French customs,” said Isabelle Braun-Lemaire in an interview with Reuters.

“Our infrastructure is ready, but it depends on companies taking into account the fact that all goods will be made to measure at Brexit. We believe some companies haven’t taken this into account yet.”

Around 100,000 French companies are trading in the UK today, and Braun-Lemaire said it had no way of knowing exactly how many of them already knew what to do in order to trade.

“Since trade is free today, we don’t know them. That is unknown tomorrow,” she said.

UK businesses also have to face a wall of bureaucracy threatening border chaos if they want to sell to the world’s largest trading bloc.

“WE DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING”

Although the new customs regime does not depend on current negotiations on future relations – the UK is now known to leave the EU’s customs union – French customs officials said the political tension meant that communications with their UK counterpart would be kept to a minimum .

“We cannot have technical discussions that are as open as we could have done,” she said, adding that she has little insight into UK Customs readiness. “We’re not naive. We don’t know everything.”

Ironically, the coronavirus epidemic, which has greatly reduced traffic across the canal, could ease the transition, said Jean-Michel Thillier, the French organizer of the customs Brexit in the Calais region.

“The health crisis might help in some ways by reducing traffic,” he said. “So we could take a little break at the beginning of the year.”

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