‘Authorised economic operator status is key to the frictionless border industry needs post-Brexit’

If there is one clarion call which I consistently recommend to government, it is the imperative importance of frictionless borders. It is vital that we achieve this to get UK products and services efficiently to market, both within Europe and further afield. However, the government cannot do this alone – we all have our parts to play.

Following the vote to leave the European Union, our profession has been in a period of continued uncertainty, but we must all be aware of the many opportunities that can arise from Brexit, and be ready and able to seize them and add value.

At the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), we are championing authorised economic operator (AEO) certification to aid members to gain a competitive advantage, recognition for professional competence and trouble-free border crossings. Clearly, security at all border crossings is of vital importance, but how this is managed is also critical to commerce.

A 21st-century solution is required if goods and vehicles are going to flow smoothly. AEO is the crucial ticket to negotiating Brexit. It indicates that your role in the international supply chain is secure, and your customs controls and procedures are efficient and compliant.

Discussions of a no-deal exit and recognition that seamless borders are unlikely to be attainable means the UK must gear up to deal with the EU as it does with the rest of the world, which recognises AEO as the standard.

Throughout the industry, to be on the list for preferred suppliers and tenders, the question increasingly asked is: “Do you hold AEO status?” So I am encouraging CILT members, government and the profession to wake up to the advantage of being an authorised economic operator.

Reasons for low participation vary and include industry complacency, pressure on resources and cumbersome processing of applications. There is a looming risk that non-AEO forwarders will be left behind as the authorities, partners and customers worldwide choose to deal only with authorised companies. Post-Brexit, an army of AEO-accredited operators will be central to achieving the smooth transition of borders to our markets.

The widespread adoption of a globally recognised standard such as AEO is essential not only to protect the UK’s position once we leave the EU, but also potentially to enhance the UK’s status as the country for international trade. The UK is well placed to be number one in logistics.

AEO status should give companies that have demonstrated their commitment to security in the supply chain access to what would in effect be a green lane through UK ports and airports. This is a complex, formal accreditation to achieve with a very low pass rate so far. Very few UK companies have it, very many will need it and I encourage all organisations to get on with it now.

Holding this status is going to be key to experiencing the frictionless border or green channel that industry wants and needs, in whatever shape is available post-Brexit. AEO offers an opportunity to demonstrate that the forwarding sector can lead the process in supporting the UK’s position in global trade. If UK forwarders do not rise to the challenge, the sector will have lost its competitive advantage and will undermine its value to customers.

Now really is the time to get started. Those who have not yet decided to get AEO certification should be giving it serious consideration and government should think carefully about making this the must-have status for forwarders to enable the UK’s economy to thrive in a post-Brexit world.