A customs software provider for freight forwarders has told the government there is "a totally unacceptable level of risk" in mandating its Customs Declaration Service (CDS) for shipments to and out of Northern Ireland.

In a letter to HMRC, Agency Sector Management (ASM) explained that the original plan for CDS migration and the subsequent shut down of CHIEF [Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight] was scheduled for September 2020.

But after extensive meetings with HMRC, ASM has now concluded that it has "no realistic chance" of releasing a CDS compliant solution, and training its users and helpdesk staff before the end of March 2021.

It said it still also had significant reservations over the level of technical support that HMRC can provide.

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"We consider that there is a totally unacceptable level of risk in mandating CDS and not having any workable contingency plans," the letter continued. "There is no benefit to trade in using CDS, it is a decision based on the requirement to operate the UK and the EU tariff concurrently and the requirement to supply the EU with surveillance data.

"The spectre of paralysing the whole of NI’s trade movements is real and we do not think that the TSS [Trader Support Service] can mitigate this to an acceptable level. We would urge you to start to look at viable alternatives, ideally using CHIEF which is currently in use and widely understood by all parties involved in trade with NI."

Responding to the news, Rod McKenzie, RHA MD of policy & public affairs said: "Many traders and international hauliers will despair at the latest hitch over IT plans for the new customs and borders arrangements after we leave the transition period in January.

"There have been serious question marks over the CDS system which the RHA has brought to the government’s attention over many months. With not much more than 30 working days to go, the logistics industry needs clarity which despite much bluster, government ministers and officials have absolutely failed to do. We are heading for a customs cold comfort."