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France puts onus on exporters to prepare for Brexit custom checks

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France puts onus on exporters to prepare for Brexit custom checks
French Junior Economy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher poses after an interview with Reuters in Paris, France, October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier   -   Copyright  BENOIT TESSIER(Reuters)
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PARIS (Reuters) – France has warned companies bringing goods in and out of Britain through its border after Brexit that they are responsible for making sure their paperwork is in order.

French junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said on Tuesday the government had done all it could to prepare.

But, she told Reuters, French measures including a “smart” Channel border allowing trucks and others transporters to complete customs checks in advance would only go so far to help businesses if they were not ready.

“We’ve put in place a fast-track border, we’ve tested it, it works,” Pannier-Runacher said. “But in a truck all of the goods have to have been pre-cleared. If something being carried by a company didn’t tick that box, it’s going to have to stop and that will be a pain.”

Companies across Europe – many of which go through France by road to reach the United Kingdom – have been rushing to prepare paperwork ahead of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Uncertainty over whether it will leave without a deal on Oct. 31 has exacerbated concerns over traffic pile-ups and delays at the border, which could be particularly painful for those dealing in groceries or other perishable goods.

In Britain, ferry hub Dover has said it is as ready as can be, though the port’s chief executive told Reuters there were uncertainties over the extent to which freigh operators were ready for new declarations on the French side.

British government no-deal planning documents from August, known as Operation Yellowhammer, said 50-85% of lorries might not be ready for French customs.

Pannier-Runacher said that within France, companies that were the most exposed to trading with the United Kingdom were largely ready and had taken other steps such as stockpiling goods.

But the government had also stepped up pressure on firms to check they were well prepared, she said.

“A company boss can’t just sit there, arms crossed, saying ‘I don’t understand, I can’t cross the border’,” Pannier-Runacher said.

France had hired extra customs agents – beefing up staff in areas where more rigorous checks are needed for health reasons, such as food – and told ambassadors across Europe to whip companies into action, she added.

“The French state has gone to considerable pains to ensure things will go as well as possible,” Pannier-Runacher said.

(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain, Michel Rose and Sarah White; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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