On the second anniversary of Brexit, and with huge lorry queues being reported at Dover last week, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is calling for urgent action to improve trade with Europe.
With well over half of UK exporters (60%) surveyed by the BCC in November 2021 reporting difficulties in trading with the EU, an increase from 49% in January 2021, it is clear urgent action is needed.
Pictures of lorries stacked up on the A20, waiting to get into the port of Dover, also offer a vivid illustration of the problems continuing to impact the operation of the trade deal between the UK and the EU.
William Bain, Head of Trade Policy at the BCC, said: “The main issue at Dover currently appears to be linked to the export of food products across the Channel. Like many of the problems this looks to be down to a differing interpretation of how the trade arrangements work after leaving the EU.
“In this case we are hearing French customs require a wet signature on paperwork for exports of animal and plant products, but as much of the documentation is produced digitally this is creating hold-ups.
“It is the latest in a string of issues with the trade deal that speaks to the wider problems of interpretation, inconsistent application and glaring gaps in its coverage.
“No-one is expecting goods to flow as freely across the channel now as they did prior to Brexit. But the way the trade agreement is being interpreted in 27 different EU countries is a major headache for UK business – especially smaller firms without the cash reserves to set up new EU based arrangements.
“Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible for the UK Government and EU to take a pragmatic approach and work together to reach new understandings on a consistent interpretation of the rules and to build on them further.
“Accredited Chambers of Commerce support the UK Government’s ambition to massively increase the number of firms exporting. Freeing up the flow of goods and services into the EU, our largest and nearest overseas market, will go a long way to realising that goal.”
Liam Smyth, Managing Director of ChamberCustoms, added: “At ChamberCustoms we work, day in and day out, with companies to help them navigate the complexities of international trade. We’ve seen a huge demand for our services in relation to trading with the EU since the implementation of the trade deal, and we know first-hand what difficulties firms on the ground are facing.
“If the UK Government and the EU are willing to takes action on these proposals from the Chamber Network it will serve to improve trading conditions and let businesses get on with growing our economy and generating prosperity.”
The BCC has set out the following five key issues, and the solutions needed, to improve EU trade:
Issue: Export health certificates cost too much and take up too much time for SME food exporters.
Solution: We need a supplementary deal on this which either eliminates or greatly reduces the complexity of exporting food for SMEs.
Issue: Some companies are being asked to register in multiple EU states for VAT in order to sell online to customers there.
Solution: We need a supplementary deal, similar to Norway’s with the EU. This exempts the smallest firms from the requirement to have a fiscal representative and incur these duplicate costs.
Issue: As things stand CE marked industrial and electrical products will not be permitted for sale on the market in Great Britain from January 2023/4. The same is true for components and spares.
Solution: We need action from the Government to help businesses with these timelines. Many firms are far from convinced about a ban on CE marked goods in Great Britain.
Issue: UK firms facing limitations on business travel and work activities in the EU.
Solution: Government needs to make side deals with the EU and member states to boost access in this area as a priority for 2022.
Issue: Companies starting to be pursued in respect of import customs declarations deferred from last year.
Solution: We need a pragmatic approach to enforcement to ensure companies recovering from the pandemic do not face heavy-handed demands too quickly on import payments, or paperwork.