Automating Customs and International Trade Solutions with Trevor Dempsey of BDO Ireland

Conversation with Trevor Dempsey, Director of Customs and International Trade Services at BDO IReland discussing how to streamline and automate compliance in this critical area.

In this episode of Interlinks, we talk to to Trevor Dempsey, who is director of customs and international trade services at BDO Ireland.

Trevor is a customs and international trade specialist with over 15 years of experience across multiple industry types, and has represented clients and industries as diverse as medical devices, IT, automotive, locomotive, and FMCG.

His areas of specialization include export licensing, customs compliance, international trade compliance, and others, and some of the specialty services include auditing, troubleshooting, ISO quality management, international trade compliance, and consulting. 

In this interview we discuss some of the solutions available to increase productivity in customs and international trade compliance.

Click here to read full transcript

Patrick Daly:                     Hello, this is Patrick Daly and welcome to Interlinks. Interlinks is a program about connections, international business, supply chains, and globalization, and the effects these developments have had on our life, our work and our travel over recent times. Today, we will be talking to Trevor Dempsey, who is director of customs and international trade services at BDO Ireland. Trevor is a customs and international trade specialist with over 15 years of experience across multiple industry types, and has represented clients and industries as diverse as medical devices, IT, automotive, locomotive, and FMCG. His areas of specialization include export licensing, customs compliance, international trade compliance, and others, and some of the specialty services include auditing, troubleshooting, ISO quality management, international trade compliance, and consulting. So Trevor, delighted to have you with us today. You’re very welcome.

Trevor Dempsey:            Thank you very much for the welcome, Patrick, and very much happy to be here.

Patrick Daly:                     Great. Could you tell me Trevor to kick off in overview about your background and your career to date?

Trevor Dempsey:            Sure. My career to date, I’m a new director to the BDO customs international trade services team. I’ve worked with BDO since late 2019. In that time, I represented clients in their Brexit readiness, and then into their Brexit execution and optimizations. We’ve helped a lot of clients through that difficult transition where the immediate issues were around the likes of being able to get product shipped and delivered, and that’s changed slightly into an optimization of spend and time. Prior to that, we developed a customs declaration system.

                                           And before coming to BDO, I worked with industry. I worked in pharmaceuticals since 2016. Previous to that, I was with a freight forwarder since 2007, and I was with an IT company since 1999. Within that IT company, I switched from a technical lab based specialty into international trade specializing in licensing around the 2005 mark, and then I got into customs when I went to the logistics industry, and I became a customs clearance manager primarily, but also started helping their clients with optimizations and programs surrounding international trade. I suppose, where that progressed when I got into pharmaceuticals was I got a general overview working in freight forwarding, and then when I got into pharmaceuticals, it became really, really specialist. We started looking at specific programs that would assist.

                                           And I suppose, no matter how specialized you get, or no matter the particular area, when you’re working in international trade, there’s principally three areas that you’re looking at. You’re either looking at costs, and how you might reduce, whether it is duties or administrative spend, or you’re looking at time. How you can best put in practices that are going to avoid or minimize the delays at the borders, or else you’re looking at compliance, where when you’re relatively happy with the spend, and you’re relatively happy with the delivery times or the shipping times. Your last hurdle that you want to make sure that you can sleep well at night is your compliance program, making sure that either the activities that you’re carrying out, or else that I’ve been carried out on your behalf, are done so in a way that’s not going to have a knock on effect or an effect down the line when the customs services come to auditor documentation.

Patrick Daly:                     It’s an interesting career progression through pharma, IT, freight forwarding, and so on. So going back to the very beginning, where did it all start? So your educational background was in what area? Was it in one of those or something different?

Trevor Dempsey:            Well, my educational when I first studied, I studied audio engineering, but I was working in a chemistry lab. So I continued working in labs, because the audio engineering there wasn’t a huge amount of work out there. So I worked in labs from a chemical manufacturer, and then into IT, and unfortunately I was working as a failure analysis and reliability technician for IBM way back when, and unfortunately that business unit was moving over to the far east. So IBM were and still are, as far as I can see, a fantastic organization in allowing you retrain and redirect your career. So the opportunity came up to be an export regulations, initially an export regulations assistant our administrator for their software group. IBM had acquired Lotus at the time. So I got into that, a lot of retraining, a lot of late nights, a lot of tough questions, and a lot of really, really dedicated hand holding by my predecessor.

                                           There’s nobody who’s progressed in a career that doesn’t have 1,000 people to thank, and I certainly did, and definitely my first manager at that time, Catherine Mooney, was somebody who really helped me through that period. And so I got involved in that export licensing, as I said, that we were looking after the software section, so realistically, the license aspect of that business fulfillment was critical, because even at that time, and this is about 2005-ish, over 90% of the product sold was electronically delivered. So there was no tangible transfer across borders, but there was the same scrutiny on the export regulations.

                                           And so it got you thrown in the deep end in some ways on the export regulations aspect of international trade, particularly where software can be designed in one part of the globe, can be hosted in a totally different part of the globe, sold from another, and then bought from another again, that kind of one-to-many sales approach became really, really vital to know exactly who you’re dealing with, and what you’re dealing with, and what their end purposes was.

Patrick Daly:                     It’s an interesting career progression, and obviously along the way, you’ve had to learn lots of quite detailed technical stuff, but what would you say were the kind of core transferable skills that you had, or you developed that stood to you all the way through those different technical appointments, if you like?

Trevor Dempsey:            Well, I do believe that the analytical approach that I would’ve had, that I was a lab assistant at the age of 18, and that analytical, and fault finding, and that detail orientated approach to any problem as it’s presented, or any explanation as it’s presented, was really stuck to me, because when you’re getting into the finer detail like that, and there’s at least five layers of questions that you need to get through, accepting what’s in front of you, it can be attractive sometimes, but it doesn’t always pay the dividends that you hope. So I’ve always felt that being able to look at a problem statement and have not only the right process for going through it, but the right mentality for applying to that process, I think has always stuck to me.

Patrick Daly:                     And I think you told me when we spoke previously, that you’ve taken up a new position within the organization recently. So what are your main responsibilities in your current role?

Trevor Dempsey:            So I suppose customs and international trade solutions are pretty traditional in their scope. What we try to do is we try to deliver programs that save you time, or money, or increase your compliance. Where I’m focusing on our deliverable programs now is to try to marry them with digitalization of data, and trying to come up with solutions that are up scalable to use the systems that people have at the moment, or to marry two or more different systems that they can achieve more savings, more whether time, or money, or achieve better compliance with tools at hand. So it’s about looking at the traditional solutions, but looking at them through the lens with new technologies and new data solutions that are available to us.

Patrick Daly:                     And typically, what kind of companies are your clients, and how are they better off after they’ve been working with you?

Trevor Dempsey:            Well, I suppose there are some clients that we have that their problem statement is almost defined by their new traders because of Brexit. So with that type of company, what they need is a solution that helps them achieve their primary goal of being able to ship, and we’ve done a lot of that, but then we have another type of company that has expanded their international trade because of Brexit. And so it’s that expansion of international trade, where they already had some experience and basis of international trade, but because of Brexit, what it’s done is it’s increased the level of let’s say transactions, whatever else. So where they wouldn’t previously had a need for an automated solution, now it starts to make sense for them. There’s a critical mass, if you like, of transactions and whatever else, but also the more transactions they do, the more difficult it is to keep their hands on the compliance program.

                                           So what we’ve seen through that mix is that we’ve been able to design an expanded solution that not only suits their present needs, but can work backwards as well to the more traditional shipping methods, because post Brexit you don’t want two parallel processes. One is purely for Brexit, and one for your more traditional international trade. It expands into one in a lot in an awful lot of ways. The export declaration or the import declaration is required, transit, whatever else. And that’s what we’ve seen a lot of.

Patrick Daly:                     Okay. And Brexit is now very much back on the agenda. In fact, this morning over breakfast, I was listening to the latest podcast from Brexit Republic, Tony Connelly, and these guys from RTE that have a very good podcast on it. So what do you think are the implications now of this proposed UK legislation under Northern Ireland protocol that I think it’s had its first reading in parliament, and were to become law next year or so, what do you think the implications of it would be?

Trevor Dempsey:            Well, I genuinely think the implications could be huge, well, in the sense that the purpose from the UK side is to have a limited impact on the trade, and to essentially make it easier for east-west trade, but I think the act as it’s seen from the EU perspective is to breaching agreement that was reached by the very same people who are writing this new legislation. So I think that whatever people plan for in this, you must kind of keep in mind that the EU is yet to define what their response is going to be in the fullness of time. It’s very hard to second guess what way that will be, and if that would be in stages, or if that would be as a suite of measures that the EU would publish.

                                           I mean, at this early stage, the EU have essentially said that nothing is off the table, so we are all in speculation. The worst outcome is that everything defaults back to being what would have been classes as a no deal Brexit, and all of those plans that traders have to put in place for that no deal scenario, what did they look like?

Patrick Daly:                     It brings back all the uncertainty that we thought was behind us, because I think in effect it gives British ministers to change whatever they want whenever they want. So that kind of opens a can of worms in terms of companies won’t really know what they’re going to want, and when they’re going to want it, right?

Trevor Dempsey:            Well, yes, but at its most extreme. Industries will always tell you that they can work with most things except uncertainty. It really hurts any time of long term strategic planning. So I think that what Britain and the EU will need to work towards in the very near future is a workable pathway for this or to reclaim ground. It’s very hard to second guess what political winds are going to blow, and I think for a businesses perspective, that probably the best way that they can do it is keep on acting in the here and now, because these are the only rules that we have at the moment, not to panic, but to kind of keep one eye on the long term future, and see, and try to make a call of what did we put in place prior to Brexit that we could review, or blow the dust off the see how well we could implement it, how quickly we could implement it?

Speaker 1:                        93.9 Dublin South FM.

Patrick Daly:                     And up to now and independently of what they might do with this latest legislation, but just up to what we have been operating with in recent times, what kinds of surprising or unforeseen consequences have businesses that are trading either with the UK or through the UK had to deal with, and how have you been able to help them to overcome some of those challenges?

Trevor Dempsey:            Well, I think what I’ve done was surprising to… Well, not surprising. It was there all along, but one of the issues that’s risen again and again has been the use of Incoterms, DDP, which is delivery duties paid, and EXWorks, EXW. Prior to Brexit, a supplier in Ireland could have delivered to the UK on a DDP basis, because within the EU context that just meant delivering to door, whereas post Brexit, it now means that you’re responsible for the export declaration in Ireland and the import declaration in the UK. And so it’s about getting yourself set up in the UK to actually complete that import declaration, and then get yourself that registered, and get yourself an EORI. And I think one of the things that really caught people on the hop is just what that entailed in the post Brexit reality.

                                           So we work a lot with our UK colleagues to get people registered on both sides of the water, so they can actually complete these declarations on the import side, so they can act as importer, or else if they’re buying on an expert basis, they can act as the export out of the UK and into Ireland. That’s been, I think, the most in terms of numbers in frequency and urgency. That’s been probably the biggest thing that we’ve done for clients at the moment. There’s been a few other things where the exporter was not aware, particularly in food sales, where the exporter was not aware of the SPS requirements on the import side and so on, so forth. And we’ve had a few false starts now in SPS in the UK. Now, luckily we’ve got short term certainty on that now.

Patrick Daly:                     Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. So they’ve postponed the introduction of controls and checks on their side several times now, I think.

Trevor Dempsey:            Several times, yep.

Patrick Daly:                     What is the current status, and what will it mean for Ireland based companies when they actually do come in?

Trevor Dempsey:            Well, so they’re probably not going to stay away forever. So the way we were preparing for it last year for the implementation was essentially, we’re going to have to have a pre advice and a veterinary certificate prior to the export, so on certain food stuffs on certain materials. So one of the things that we had initially talked to the Department of Agriculture was how many vets are going to be available, and where are they going be available for, and particularly what was going to be the case where a producer sends goods to a distribution center, and then the distribution center sells to the UK? Who will be responsible then? Will it be the producer, or will it be the distribution center?

                                           So thankfully, we’ve got a wee bit more room now. I think we’ve gotten until mid or late next year to get this sorted. So for the short term, we’ve got certainty, but I would imagine that the Department of Agriculture are working hard, that when we do go to implement the measures, that they’re as streamlined as possible. We’ll still need the veterinary sign off prior to export of certain goods, which is inevitable in the long term.

Patrick Daly:                     Yeah. I ask almost everyone who comes on to show this next question about globalization, not kind of presupposing that they’re necessarily experts in the field of global affairs, but just to get that kind of layman’s perspective. So what’s your view on where we’re headed with this process of economic globalization that grew rapidly say from 1990, after the fall the Berlin Wall, up until maybe 2010, then it slowed after that, then it flatlined, and then maybe even going backwards now, so we’ve had Brexit, and we’ve had COVID, with war in Europe? So what’s your own view? Do you think is this a blip? Is it a change of form in globalization, or are we actually in reverse or going backwards?

Trevor Dempsey:            I don’t think we will go backwards. To be honest, my own view, and obviously this is purely my view, is that for its woes, we will never want and expect less than we want and expect today. So if even the looking at globalization through almost a more nationalist lens, if that means we have less access, and I think that that would temper the reversal. I think that world views on globalization are typically cyclical. They will rise and fall, and we’re probably at a wee bit of a fall at the moment, but I don’t think that would hold in the long term. I do think that there is an aspect of globalization, particularly international trade globalization, where there’s going to be an increasing thought on environmental impact on the global trade routes, and what our expectations for say year end availability or high volume availability, what impact that actually has, particularly in terms of transport roots on the environment.

                                           And I can’t see that particular consideration ever lessening than it is at this point now. And at this point now, it’s far more of a consideration than it was 10 years ago. So within the cyclical nature of globalization, I think that there’s going to be a common thread on our considerations. And I think now that with the international movement of gods, the environmental impact considerations are going to steadily increase.

Patrick Daly:                     So as we get into the last couple of minutes, might just change tack and ask you a couple of more kind of personal questions. So when you’re not working and thinking about international trade, and Brexit, and globalization, what kind of things do you like to do in your spare time?

Trevor Dempsey:            Yeah, I run a lot at the moment, and I hope to slow down at some stage. So I do run a lot. I spend some time with my partner, Carla, and whenever I can, again, one is sometimes at the detriment of the other, unfortunately, and I spend my weekends in the west of Ireland with my kids, so I spend a lot of time here as well. So unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of sitting down at the moment, but I’m hoping to change that soon, Pat.

Patrick Daly:                     Okay. And are you reading anything or listening to anything currently like books, audio books, podcast that you’d recommend or that you…

Trevor Dempsey:            You know what? I just finished the latest. It’s a prequel book that I got of Ken Follett. The name escapes me now, but Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth was one of the greatest novels.

Patrick Daly:                     It’s kind of medieval historical novels?

Trevor Dempsey:            Yeah. Yeah. But it was so full in detailed that it was… And the narrative throughout was just fantastic, so I got a prequel to that, and I just finished that recently, so I really enjoyed that one.

Patrick Daly:                     Excellent. And where can people find out more about BDO, and about yourself, contact you, and so on?

Trevor Dempsey:            So you can contact me directly at You can go to BDO Ireland’s website, and we’ve got a link for the customs and international trade services team there. My manager’s name is Carol Lynch. She is often on the airwaves too. So what I will say is regardless of the size of your enterprise, we do have a solution to help. So if international trade is something that you are struggling, or suffering, or wish to improve, we in all likelihood have the person and the solution for it.

Patrick Daly:                     Excellent. And I guess people can find you directly on LinkedIn as well under your name, Trevor Dempsey, yeah?

Trevor Dempsey:            Trevor Dempsey on LinkedIn. Yeah, can’t miss me.

Patrick Daly:                     Okay. So thank you very much, Trevor. It’s been an absolute pleasure, and wish you the very best for the future, both professionally and personally.

Trevor Dempsey:            Perfect. Pat, thank you very much for the time today, really appreciate it.

Patrick Daly:                     Thanks to our listeners also for tuning in, and any comments or questions, just drop me a line on That’s So keep well and stay safe.

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Interlinks is a programme about the connections, relationships and supply chains, that underpin the globalisation of our modern world.

In each programme, we interview people from around the world including entrepreneurs, executives, academics, diplomats and politicians to get their unique perspective on globalisation as it has affected them both personally and professionally.

There is a little bit of history, a dash of economics, a sprinkling of business and an overlay of personal experience both from me and from my interviewees from around the world.

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