Calais, France's busiest road freight port, is ready for the return of customs formalities on trade moving between Britain and the European Union and will avoid chaotic queues of trucks if businesses follow procedures, its chief executive said.
Britain formally transitions out of the EU's customs union and single market at 23:00 GMT on 31 December, after which companies will have to complete customs declarations whether there is a post-Brexit trade deal or not.
Businesses shifting goods between Britain and the world's largest trading bloc have warned of major disruption to just-in-time supply chains.
"Brexit is not synonymous with chaos. Brexit is not synonymous with a snarling up of traffic," Calais port chief Jean-Marc Puissesseau told Reuters. "If customs declarations are done as they should be, ahead of time, I don't see a problem."
Shortest Sea Route
Calais-Dover is the shortest sea route between Britain and the EU - just 23 miles (37 km) - and Calais handles some 2 million trucks per year. The port has invested €6 million in infrastructure to restore a hard border.
French customs officials acknowledge they have no idea how many companies from Portugal in Europe's west to Romania and Poland in the east will be prepared to confront the wall of bureaucracy to move across the new hard border.
France's National Federation of Road Hauliers (FNTR) said delays would mean additional costs that eat into tight margins. Some logistics companies were trying to negotiate protection against delays caused by border holdups in contracts, it said.
"We'll be at the centre of problems that arise in the first weeks," said Isabelle Maitre, employed by the FNTR, which represents transport companies, in Brussels. "When trucks are on the move, it's a sign the economy is functioning."
'Calais Is Ready'
Puissesseau's remarks that "Calais is ready" came even as queued trucks snaked along the port's access road, with British companies rushing to stockpile.
The tailbacks happened because ferry operators had removed two vessels from operations because of a pandemic-induced fall in tourist passengers. That reduced truck capacity, he said.
There were longer tailbacks at the nearby Eurotunnel terminal.
Dover, Europe’s busiest trucking port, expects some disruption on 31 December and is already seeing almost record volumes as companies rush to stockpile, its chief executive said on Thursday.
The maritime route across the narrow Strait of Dover has been one of Britain’s main arteries for European trade since the Middle Ages. A €700 million expansion of the port of Calais is due to be completed early next year.
"Today, we're suffering from two viruses: Brexit and the coronavirus," Puissesseau said. "Next year we convalesce. We learn how Brexit works, and the virus will hopefully be behind us. And in 2022, the tourists return.
"I'm not pessimistic about the future."