With Brexit and pandemic-related trade disruption in the UK hindering deliveries to Jersey, local businesses are being encouraged to build closer direct links with France and Poland, and use local freight services to ship their goods.
The benefits, it's argued, would include quicker delivery (and fewer empty shelves as a result), support for the local economy, other collaborative opportunities with EU nations - and even helping the environment.
According to Magdalena Chmielewska, Jersey’s Honorary Polish Consul, one of the positives of Brexit has been the greater cooperation between Polish and Jersey businesses.
Ms Chmielewska has been living in the island for the past 20 years and will celebrate 10 years as Honorary Consul next year. Over the last seven years, she has also been acting as consultant for a number of local businesses looking to source items from eastern Europe, but especially Poland.
She said that from the moment Brexit was announced in 2016, local businesses started planning for the potential impact it would have and organising themselves to find alternatives, though there is still more work to be done.
“The UK lost some trade as a consequence of Brexit and covid brought consequences as well,” she explained.
Pictured: Magdalena Chmielewska has been acting as consultant for a number of local businesses looking to source items from eastern Europe, but especially Poland, for the past seven years.
“We’ve got queues of lorries on the borders and as a result, supermarket shelves are empty. The EU TCA has definitely increased barriers in the trade between EU and the UK.
“When Brexit was announced in 2016, we knew we would be facing significant challenges and what happened in Jersey is incredibly interesting and very clever as a lot of businesses started looking further afield.”
With the local Polish community having proven themselves as “hard-working and reliable”, Ms Chmielewska said local companies feel confident doing business with Polish firms, leading to a “very successful cooperation”, especially in the building industry.
The business consultant has helped local businesses work with Multi Comfort, a Polish company that specialises in modular buildings made out of timber-frame and cross-laminated timber (CLT).
More recently, the cooperation has even helped with the local labour shortage with the company bringing their staff to the island to do the fitting along with the structure.
Pictured: Ms Chmielewska says the cooperation has been particularly successful in the construction industry.
Whilst some local and French businesses have expressed concerns about the administrative nightmare the Customs procedures introduced in the wake of Brexit have caused in the importation of French produce, Ms Chmielewska said she hasn’t experienced any issues.
She also praised the Jersey Customs and Immigration Service for the training they delivered ahead of Brexit and for their willingness to help.
“We all knew since 2016 that challenges were coming,” she said.
“People had plenty of time to accommodate to be ready. We are very lucky with our Customs Department - we have the best in the UK!"
Pictured: Ms Chmielewska praised the Jersey Customs and Immigration Service for the training they delivered ahead of Brexit and for their willingness to help.
She added: "There is not an issue that cannot be solved. Luke Goddard [Acting Director for Immigration and Nationality, ed.] has an answer to everything.
“The willingness and the help I have received is the best!"
To avoid the long lorry queues in the UK and ensure a quicker delivery, Ms Chmielewska has been encouraging local businesses to use local freight companies for transport.
“The more business we bring to this island the better,” she said “Sticking to those local companies is better. We want to give business to the companies who embraced us. Keeping it within house is very important, any business I instruct I will definitely encourage them to do as much business with Jersey as we can.
“One of the positives of Brexit is that people have realised that we need to work as a team, we need to be able to rely on each other and do business with those who actually want to do business with us and Poland is definitely one of those.
“There’s plenty out there that could be sourced, I don’t see why what we have done with the construction industry couldn’t be replicated with other industries.
“What I have learned in Jersey is that if there’s a will, there’s a way, and there’s definitely a way.”
Pete Crafter is Captain of the Thora at Harbour Facility Limited, which trades as Boatloads.je.
His boat was one of the only ones running through covid and repatriated over 400 people to the island, and he said he has definitely felt the effect of the new rules introduced in the wake of Brexit.
“When the effect of covid was less, Brexit took over,” he explained.
Pictured: The Thora was previously used as a passenger ferry in Shetland.
In his view, “Jersey was too quick to sign up to the UK customs agreement.”
“Now, we are getting all the troubles and drawbacks. If we had negotiated our own agreement with the UK and negotiated our own agreement with the customs in France, I think Jersey would be in a far better place. We would not have all the drawbacks associated with the UK and Brexit, we never part of Europe and we were never part of the UK.
“Everybody is a lot stricter and for no reason. The goods that come in need to have a certificate of origin and the Jersey customs and French customs don’t speak to each other. The paperwork required in Jersey is not required in France.”
He also felt Jersey being associated with the UK as a result of Brexit had led to less preferential treatment from authorities.
“…[The UK], by leaving the EU, has upset the authorities in France, and us being associated with the UK, we get all the shortfalls form that.”
Mr Crafter added: “I do not know if it can carry on like this forever because it’s affecting everything to do with paperwork. It would be nice to think it will end but it’s a mass of effort at the moment and the rules are changing again next year.”
He says there has been a “slight increase” in demand for local freight services lately – but not just as a result of Brexit or the pandemic.
In fact, he says some of his customers have been influenced by environmental concerns.
Pictured: Mr Crafter says he has seen a “slight increase” in the demand for direct freight services between France and Jersey.
“People are becoming more aware that there is no need to send stuff to the UK,” he said. “It’s two lots of customs and then there’s the sea miles.
“When you bring stuff from Europe, the normal route would be through the UK, but that can lead to seven to eight weeks of delay.
“From Poland, it takes two days to get Granville. We sail once a week so we could get material from the EU the same week or at least within seven days.
“It’s ludicrous that stuff that comes from Europe has to go through the UK, you can see France from Jersey. We’ve had a bit more cargo, but I think people are becoming more dissatisfied with goods going to the UK.
“Definitely, the more environmentally friendly people will bring stuff
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