So the starting gun has been fired and Article 50 has been triggered. As a result, negotiations are now formally underway to agree the terms and conditions under which this country will leave the European Union in two years’ time.
What does the business community need and expect from these complex and multifaceted talks?
Recent surveys from the British Chambers of Commerce, our national organisation, have highlighted the fact that only a small minority of businesses already exporting to the EU plan to reduce their sales efforts to the region.
In effect businesses are continuing to deliver their long-term international trade plans, both to the EU and elsewhere. But they do need ministers to help them continue to do so with confidence. Regardless of any future trade agreements, there will be significant changes to customs and border procedures for businesses – whether importers or exporters to the EU.
The single most important imperative is for the British Government to secure an EU trade deal on the best terms possible, ensuring that there is no sudden disruption to our trading relations with the EU after 2019. The other side of that coin is, of course, for the Government to press on and sign free trade agreements in high growth and key trade markets, including the USA.
To successfully achieve both of these objectives will require greater support in bolstering our currently under-powered trade mission programme. Such investment would certainly boost local exporters’ confidence, build links with key trade partners and underpin any future deals.
We are also pressing for the UK’s status as a distribution centre for Europe to be protected, possibly through measures such as the introduction of Free Trade Zones, allowing goods to be brought in, assembled and re-exported without any customs red tape or duty being paid.
In addition, the BCC has outlined its asks from Government as we negotiate our way out of the EU on other issues including tax, regulation, substitution of EU funding for business and the labour market. In the case of the last point, important to a number of businesses here in Suffolk, we are lobbying for the residency rights of EU workers to be clarified as soon as possible. They should also not be used as bargaining chips against any other aspects of the UK/EU negotiations.
The Chamber network contains over 350 international trade experts and so we are ready to help facilitate a consultation between our members and the Government on these issues, including the adaptation of the EU Union Customs Code to a UK Customs Code.
Published 29th March 2017