About half of businesses that trade with the UK say they are struggling to understand the new customs requirements that will come into effect in January.

This is according to research carried out on behalf of Declaron - a customs clearance service established as a joint venture between BDO and Fexco.

The study found that around four in ten businesses had yet to start planning for post-Brexit trade arrangements.

This comes four and a half years after the UK voted to leave the EU and just weeks before the UK is due to leave the single market and customs union.

The main reason provided by businesses that had yet to start planning is that no trade agreement is currently in place between the EU and UK, making it more difficult to prepare.

A large number of firms said the pandemic had interrupted their plans, with up to 90% of medium and large businesses also citing Covid-19 as a barrier to post-Brexit trade preparations.

Carol Lynch, a Director with Declaron and a partner with BDO, said companies were overvaluing the prospects of a trade agreement solving their customs issues.

"Even if and when a trade agreement is concluded, there will still be a requirement for import and export declarations. The agreement only means that customs duties may not be payable," Ms Lynch explained.

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She said compliance obligations would increase as companies would have to, among other things, confirm the tariff code of the finished product, check the trade agreement for the rule of origin for that product and ensure that they get authorised with Revenue.

She said records would also have to be kept for a possible customs audit.

For companies that haven't started planning, Ms Lynch outlined some steps that companies need to take now.

"You've a short timeframe at this point. You really need to prioritise. The first thing you need is to get customs registration, which is called an EORI number. You need to request that from Revenue but you can't import or export without that.

"The next most important thing is find out how you're going to lodge your customs declarations. It's quite an in-depth process. It's a tax declaration at the end of the day so it needs to be 100% accurate."

Ms Lynch said a lack of available customs agents was also hindering the ability of companies to prepare.

"That's absolutely true. We're short about 3,000 customs agents in the country," she explained.

In the event of a product for export containing materials from other countries, the process gets further complicated as they have to be tracked.

In the event of the product containing materials from other countries, the process gets further complicated as they have to be tracked.

"I know that businesses are concerned about whether there will be a trade agreement in place but that should not stop preparation for the one guaranteed task they will have to deal with and that is creating and submitting Customs Declarations," Michael Nolan, CEO of Declaron, said. 

"There are certain steps that every business must now take to be able to import and export with effect from 1 January and inaction now puts the efficiency of their trading with the UK at risk," he added.