Michel De Lattre (Customs): “Customs clearance requires more and more specific knowledge”

Transuniverse handles the daily import and export of its customers’ goods. In many cases, this involves customs formalities. Our AEO-certified customs service ensures smooth and, above all, correct handling. The team is managed by Michel De Lattre.

Originally, Michel made a career for himself in the customs department of a major air freight forwarder. In 2014, he was recruited by Transuniverse to shape a new department: Customs. “Before, customs formalities were taken care of by the planning department. Entrusting them to a specialised unit allowed the planners to better focus on their core tasks. More expertise could also be brought together. Indeed, customs activities involve more and more specific knowledge, if only because legislation is constantly evolving,” he explains.

His team consists of six specialists of different nationalities in Wondelgem and four employees in Romania, who are in charge of preparing the formalities.

Specific knowledge

“The legislation is changing rapidly, not only in terms of taxation but also, for example, in terms of supervision of the requirements to be met by imported and exported products. For example, you must strictly follow EU directives regarding the so-called CE rules that products must comply with. After all, they are very important for health and safety,” says Michel.


That specific knowledge is especially important on the export side. “The rules are different in – say – Morocco, Turkey, the UK and Switzerland. VAT regimes and financial aspects are also different each time. In principle, the exporter and the local importer must ensure that local laws and regulations are respected. But in some cases, they call on our team to check whether everything is correct from a customs point of view. And sometimes we provide them with support in finding out the correct import duties in a country. In Switzerland, for example, these can be avoided in some cases because the EU has a free trade agreement with that country,” he adds.


On the import side, Brexit and the associated customs formalities have presented quite a challenge for his team. “Not only has it meant a lot of extra work but there’s also more time pressure. If you import goods from Turkey, you have a fairly long transit time usually of seven days. So you have eight days to prepare everything. Imports from the UK are different: the distance, and hence the transit time, is very short. So you have much less time to get everything ready on time,” Michel explains.


This is one of the reasons why digitalisation is of great importance. “Customs documents are stored digitally by us and forwarded to local agents and/or consignees. But more importantly, this digitalisation allows planning to do its job better: we work closely together to check whether all the formalities have been completed and therefore whether or not a shipment is allowed to leave or be delivered. So we check whether the documents have been fully completed and if any information is missing we will notify the customer. Thanks to our high-performance IT system, customers not only enjoy faster handling but also avoid errors that could interrupt the logistics flow,” Michel adds.

Finally, he points to the good communication with the customs administration: “It facilitates the handling of files and any checks, meaning that less time is wasted and a smoother flow can be guaranteed.”


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