As an internationally active company, with currently 50 subsidiaries in 29 countries and distribution partners worldwide, the smooth and reliable supply of medical products to its customers and patients is a top priority for L&R. The L&R subsidiary L&R Medical UK Ltd. (L&R UK), based in Burton-upon-Trent, is the sales representative of the L&R Group in Great Britain and supplies its customers primarily with products for compression, wound care and - due to the pandemic - also with hygiene products such as surgical and FFP2 masks, etc. L&R UK is responsible for the supply of medical products to its customers and patients and is supplied with products from the German logistics hub Neuwied-Block.
Ever since it became clear that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union (Brexit), L&R has been preparing intensively and in good time for this day. Dirk Hegel, Head of Shipping and Customs at L&R: "It was uncertain for a long time when Brexit would actually come into force and when a trade agreement would define a new set of rules for the movement of goods between the UK and the EU and, above all, when it would be available. We therefore built up large stocks in the UK in 2020 so that our UK subsidiary could always supply its customers with the usual high level of delivery service. Security of supply is always our premise. To this end, we are and have of course been in constant exchange with our British colleagues."
In fact, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement - a document of about 1,400 pages - between the EU and the UK was only published between Christmas and New Year's Eve 2020 and came into force on 1 January 2021. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) grants duty-free access for products originating in the EU and the UK that meet the preferential origin conditions. For products that are not produced in the EU or the UK under the aforementioned conditions, the normal third party tariffs apply.
L&R currently sells over 18,000 products. On the one hand, these are produced at the company's own 15 production sites in 11 countries - in and outside the EU - and on the other hand, an international network of manufacturers and suppliers completes the L&R portfolio with their products. L&R is therefore also experienced with the more complex customs clearance process for goods that do not originate from the EU.
For L&R, the short lead time between publication and entry into force of the TCA was not a problem. "From our experience as an international company that also supplies many other so-called third countries, we quickly changed our processes. The export of goods is somewhat hampered in that we have to go through a more elaborate customs clearance process, but our good preparation and experience allows us to cushion this well."
Although there were small delays during the first transport in January, today the delivery to the British subsidiary is running smoothly. Since the beginning of the year, customs papers have to be sent to the UK before the actual delivery, British customs checks the data and, if everything is in order, issues an "entry number", after which the shipment can be started.
So far, L&R deliveries have not been confronted with traffic jams. Dirk Hegel is confident that all shipments that L&R sends to Great Britain in 2021 will continue to run as smoothly as before. Only small consignments or deliveries of product samples have to be handled somewhat differently - and in a more cumbersome and expensive way.
What would L&R like to see from politics?
For L&R and the medical device industry, the open questions here are not those concerning the trade of goods, but those concerning regulatory and legal changes for medical devices. As a member of the German Medical Technology Association (BVMed), L&R continues to advocate a mutual recognition agreement (MRA) for medical devices between the EU and the UK in order to reduce bureaucratic obstacles. Relevant here is above all a transitional period for CE-marked products according to MDD/AIMDD and MDR until June 2023, as from then only the new UKCA marking (UK Conformity Assessed) will apply.