calais port lorries

HMRC has written to around 13,000 hauliers across Europe to acknowledge difficulties with its new Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) requirements for trade with the EU.

The letter, sent out by HMRC last week, was translated into 11 other European languages and admitted it was “aware of some common issues occurring when customers are creating Goods Movement References (GMRs) into GVMS, which are causing them delays at the border”.

The GVMS is described on the UK government website as an “IT platform for moving goods into or out of Northern Ireland and Great Britain”. Its use has been required since since the turn of the year as part of Great Britain’s reciprocal controls on goods entering the island from most of the EU (which has run checks on imports from Britain as part of the UK-EU trade deal finalised in late 2020).

However, updates on the GMVS page suggest the service has been hit by monthly outages or downtimes. The latest warned of “scheduled maintenance” that will prevent users from accessing the customs declaration service from 9:30pm on 29 January until 3.30am the following morning.

Described as “routine engagement”, the HMRC letter advised Europe’s Britain-bound haulers how to navigate aspects of the UK’s new controls on imported goods from the bloc to Great Britain, while also reminding them of the need to use the GMVS. A spokeswoman added that HMRC “regularly engages with carriers, UK and EU hauliers and logistics representative bodies to understand how they and their members are adapting to the new processes”.

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It comes as a spokesman for the British International Freight Association (BIFA) said there had been “daily exchanges” with UK border and customs officials about “issues at the frontier” since the turn of the year.

In a separate statement, BIFA described the GMVS requirements as “complex”, as they depend on “all parties performing their task correctly, sending and monitoring messages and involving some operators such as hauliers in customs activities for the first time in decades”.

“Complexity and unfamiliarity have contributed to some of the issues encountered,” according to BIFA, which posted the 12 language-versions of the HMRC letter on its website on Wednesday and advised members to share the documents with hauliers.

Though there have been predictably dire warnings of trouble down the road, neither Britain’s food importers nor European exporters have so far complained of significant delays due to the new UK-side requirements.

But on the sending side, some UK-based dairy exporters were left flustered last weekend by revised health certificate requirements, which they said Defra had brought in at the last minute.

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General goods trade, food included, often tails off in January after high pre-Christmas spending. Many businesses had also pointed to pre-emptive stockpiling last last year as another possible reason for slow early-2022 trading.

“The changes from 1 January had so far no major impact on businesses”, a European Dairy Association spokesman said. “The warehouses in the UK were filled before to allow a phasing in [and] a certain time for getting acquainted with the new system”.

The UK imports almost half the food consumed in the country, with around 70% of those imports coming from the EU, according to the government’s Food Security Report, which was published in December. 

Physical checks on food entering GB from the EU are not scheduled to start until the middle of the year. “The additional controls on foodstuffs are fairly limited at the moment, although that will change on 1 July 2022,” the BIFA spokesman said.