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COVID, Brexit & International Shipping

Mark Fahmy

Mar 23, 2021

Distribution Net 2

Author: Mark Fahmy Biomedicine graduate with a strong scientific background and passion for innovation, who interned at Pivotal Scientific in 2021.

Mark Fahmy

How Have Things Changed Around the World?

The COVID pandemic has changed the way the world operates in an incredibly fast and unprecedented manner: from the way we work to the way we interact with others in our daily lives. It has forced the digital transformation of businesses and put immense pressure on the stability of international shipping. With Brexit coming into effect on the 1st of January 2021, it has meant even more challenges for international shipping, creating a confusing environment for suppliers and distributors who do business with the UK.

We at Pivotal Scientific have been in contact with our PSL Alliance members to learn about their experiences, their challenges, and their tips on navigating international shipping in a COVID, post-Brexit world.

COVID: How Has It Affected Businesses Worldwide?

As COVID took the world by surprise early in 2020, most countries put in place drastic measures in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, introducing lockdowns and curfews with varying degrees of severity. This in turn affected businesses and logistical operations, piling pressure on the stability of international shipping services worldwide.

In the second quarter of 2020, many of our PSL Alliance members reported significant losses. This was largely due to the closure of many research and industry labs amid the strict lockdown measures worldwide. However, suppliers and distributors of items pertaining to PPE, such as latex gloves and face masks, experienced unprecedented demand and long backorders. Other items that also experienced backorder delays were plastic/glass consumables such as pipette tips and plates, which many companies have struggled to obtain in a timely manner. In addition, one PSL Alliance member commented that they had trouble sourcing human tissue samples due to COVID.

As 2020 progressed and labs started to open up again in compliance with COVID regulations, many PSL Alliance members, both suppliers and distributors, experienced considerable growth in sales, with many ending the year enjoying very positive sales figures. It has been reported, however, that sales in China have not recovered as quickly and strongly as in other countries worldwide. In general, businesses that have shifted their focus towards manufacturing and distributing COVID-related products performed particularly well during the latter half of 2020, as the shift aligned with the explosion in demand for such products worldwide.

COVID: How Has It Affected International Shipping?

Although many businesses have recovered from the initial hit and learned to pivot and adapt, issues with international shipping have significantly affected businesses and their customers. With fewer planes now flying due to the pandemic situation, courier companies are having trouble dealing with the increased demands and limited freight spaces available, resulting in significant shipment delays in many parts of the world. The pressure of this situation has also resulted in more expensive freight rates being applied by courier companies.

One PSL Alliance member reported a decrease in how quickly they could ship products out due to a shortage of dry ice and increasing delays from the major couriers because of an overload of shipments.

Unfortunately, some PSL Alliance members have had their shipments destroyed due to excessively high temperatures while awaiting transfer during international shipping. This is something to keep in mind especially when shipping orders through warmer countries in the Middle East during particularly hot seasons, since sensitive samples may not survive delays in such conditions.

In the EU, we have received reports from one PSL Alliance member that shipments are often held in France for 24 hours with no reasonable explanation as to why, and that Germany now demands a vet certificate fee to be paid for every imported shipment. Germany may also hold some shipments due to a stipulation that they require a CE certification even when the correct paperwork for Research Use Only products is supplied – they are, however, in communication with FedEx to resolve this. Another PSL Alliance member is currently experiencing issues with shipping to Spain and is working to resolve this.

With regards to Asia, we have received reports of major issues with shipments from China to the rest of the world during the early stages of the pandemic and throughout their update of HS codes in January, but most of these issues seem to have now been resolved. For shipments to China, one PSL Alliance member reports that they often receive requests to send images of the actual tubes even though all documentation for the products has been agreed with their distributors in China. This company has also reported that in Japan there are new laws concerning any material derived from viruses, so suppliers should clarify that no viruses were involved in the production of the items being shipped to Japan.

In North America, there seems to be stricter custom control at the US-Canada border due to COVID. One PSL Alliance member adjusted their shipping procedures by asking that their suppliers very clearly label all products inside packages so they do not get held up at US-Canada customs.

Brexit: How Has It Affected Shipments to and from the UK?

With Brexit coming into effect at the beginning of the year, we have received many accounts of significant issues and delays at the UK border. It appears that both importing and exporting products from and to the UK have been affected, with customs clearance procedures often taking longer than usual and resulting in delays. One PSL Alliance member has informed us of issues with products being held at customs even when the products were shipped with the correct documentation, causing delays of several weeks for some UK customers to receive their products. 

For issues regarding shipments from and to the UK, some PSL Alliance members have experienced significant issues, and this has led to products packaged with dry ice perishing. They are working hard with their courier services to resolve this. Judging from replies from our PSL Alliance members, it appears that those who maintain a close relationship with their courier service and follow up with them on the latest updates experience fewer delays. It is worth noting that some courier services may be busy and experience instability during certain times. Therefore, we advise checking with alternative courier services if that is the case to see if they are operating more smoothly.

Generally, we have seen that companies that rely on direct sales, with no help from distributors, have more trouble keeping up with the changes happening at the UK border. For UK-based suppliers, we have observed that the ones that have strong partnerships with reliable EU distributors in each of the different EU countries generally experience fewer issues, since these distributors will alert them to any new changes and notify them of any new requirement. For EU-based suppliers shipping to the UK, a strong relationship with a reliable UK-based distributor also helps them navigate this confusing transition.

If you are a UK supplier who needs reliable EU distributors or an EU supplier who needs a reliable UK distributor, please check our list of recommended distributors and we can help you establish a successful connection that offers you more peace of mind when it comes to Brexit-related issues.

Finally, please feel free to connect with us and share any shipping issues you may be experiencing or ask any questions. We always love hearing from you!

And remember, we’re all in this together!

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