Across Ireland, advisors from Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are helping businesses to prepare for the full impact of Brexit in 2021.
On December 31, the period of transition between the EU and the UK expires and all trading, importing and exporting procedures and agreements between the two bodies will change.
This will have a massive effect on all businesses on the island of Ireland, particularly those that import or export through the United Kingdom.
To help prepare Irish businesses, LEOs are continuing to run Prepare Your Business for Customs Workshops, where participants are learning how to negotiate customs duty, import VAT, border delays and many other Brexit-related issues. The Prepare Your Business for Customs workshops are funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation through Enterprise Ireland.
Sixty seven training sessions with 835 companies have been held online since the start of the year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, as the realities of Brexit begin to bite for small businesses. Meanwhile, 37 more workshops are planned before the end of 2020.
One small business that has already benefited from the workshops is Triskell Seafood, which was founded in 1999 by Marie-Aude Danguy, a native of Brittany in France. After coming to Ireland to study at Sligo IT in the late 80s, Marie-Aude stayed on and learnt her trade working in shellfish farms throughout the northwest before setting up Triskell Seafood.
Brona Galvin from Triskell Seafood in Sligo says that the workshops have been a huge help to the company, which exports oysters and equipment used in the seafood industry across Ireland and in the UK.
“It has given us that knowledge that we need, that we have not been able to source on our own. It got us set up regarding registering for VAT in the UK, getting our EORI (Economic Operators Registration and Identification) number in place, it really brought us through all the steps we needed to go through.
"It was hugely beneficial."
However, with only a small workforce of four full-time staff and one part-time member of staff, businesses like Triskell Seafood are operating in uncertain times.
Brona hopes that the knowledge she and her colleagues have gained from the LEO customs workshops, particularly around the issue of tariffs, will stand Triskell Seafood in good stead from January 1 onwards.
"We would always have had a knowledge of the tariff codes for reporting purposes, but we wouldn't have had to use them in the day-to-day invoicing and shipment of goods, so that really helped us to be efficient in our business.
"The fact that we're primarily selling one product, we don't have the same intricacies that some manufacturing businesses have - trying to decide 'what is your product?' So that was quite interesting."
After such a long run up to Brexit, fighting complacency is key to keeping small businesses going.
“A lot of companies believe it won’t happen and come January 1, when it does go ahead and companies are not prepared, it will be hugely problematic for them,” says John McEntegart from LEO Monaghan.
"I'll give you an example,” he adds.
“There's a company here in Monaghan and they said, 'Brexit won't affect us!' They were an egg company. When they actually looked at their supply chain, they took all their one-day-old chicks in from the UK. So they hadn't even considered this as they were selling to Irish retailers like Dunnes, Tesco Ireland, SuperValu.
"But their source of chicks came from the UK. If, for example, there's a delay in Holyhead, they could lose 10pc, 15pc, 20pc of the chicks. That cost will be on the business.
"People who buy from distributors, and those distributors supply parts, where do those parts come from? If they come from Europe, that's fine, but if they come from the UK will there be tariffs? Will there be VAT on it? Will there be delays on it? A lot of people haven't looked at the supply chain and that's a very important thing.”
While much of the focus of the last seven or eight months has been on Covid-19 and a pandemic that has played havoc with economies across the world, McEntegart hopes that it’s not too late for those businesses that are not yet fully up to speed with the new world of Brexit.
"If you take the level of trade between the Republic and the UK, particularly in the food sector, it's massive,” he adds.
“What has also happened is that we've been so busy trying to help companies through Covid, Brexit nearly took the backseat.
"It's only really ramped up since September or October and time is running out, so if you are in doubt, come talk to us."
The Prepare Your Business for Customs workshops are open to all businesses who want to ensure they are ready for the new customs procedures that will begin on January 1. If you are a small business who wants to avail of the programme or wants to understand if their company is Brexit Ready, then contact your Local Enterprise Office or visit the Local Enterprise Office website.