When British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced it Brexit trade deal on December 24, he said it would allow British companies “to do more business” with the European Union.
Britain will be “affluent and dynamic and content” thereafter completing his exit from the European Union, Johnson says, is free to enter into trade deals around the world while continuing to export unhindered to the EU market of 450 million consumers.
But it’s been 100 days since Britain broke away from its biggest single trading partner and Brexit has proven to be a disaster. for many UK exporters, who has dismissed Johnson’s description of the problem as a “teething problem” and now calls on the government to take urgent action to prevent further losses.
“We call on Britain and the European Union to return to the negotiating table and come up with solutions that reduce trade barriers and give exporters an opportunity to fight,” said British Chamber of Commerce executive director Hannah Essex in a statement on Monday.
“The difficulty exporters face is not just a ‘teething problem’. It is a structural problem which, if left untreated, could lead to potentially irreversible long-term weakness in the UK export sector, “he added.
The deal is bad for trade. But it has also contributed to the recent violence and growing anger in Northern Ireland.
During the negotiations on the Brexit deal, the issue of moving goods between Ireland, which is a member of the European Union and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, proved to be the most difficult to solve. Honoring the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended three decades of sectarian violence meant avoiding a return to the border on the Irish island.
Instead, Johnson agreed that Northern Ireland would remain subject to EU market rules and to set up trade borders in the Irish Sea to control them, angering pro-British union members who objected to Northern Ireland being treated differently from other British nations. Johnson has promised in 2019 that there will be no inspections of goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The rioting and violence on the streets of Belfast this month have sparked fears of a return to Northern Ireland’s troubled past and led a US State Department spokesman to warn that the Good Friday Agreement should not “fall victim to Brexit.”
Exports are collapsed
The UK government has not published an assessment of the economic impact of Brexit, and continues to promote the benefits it claims.
A government spokesman told CNN Business that the Brexit deal “protects high-quality jobs and investments right across the UK and ensures that businesses continue to trade effectively and sell to their customers in the European Union.”
But a survey of more than 1,000 UK business leaders conducted by EY and the London First lobby group in late February found that three-quarters had experienced disruptions to their operating model after the end of the Brexit transition period, and half expect it to continue in the long term. .
UK exports to the European Union plunged 41% in January compared with December, according to the Office for National Statistics, and many companies said their ability to continue trade with the bloc was at risk due to problems arising from the trade agreement. Businesses that were previously able to get goods into Europe within hours of placing an order now face long and costly delays due to new customs and food safety checks.
A UK Chamber of Commerce survey published Monday of 2,900 UK exporters found that 41% of companies reported a drop in export sales in the first quarter, driven by Brexit and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
British exporters are struggling to adjust to the “paperwork” they now have to handle, according to Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chamber of Commerce.
There is also ambiguity surrounding sales tax payments as well as confusion about new rules of origin requirements, with companies reporting very little accessible advice from the UK government on the matter, he told CNN Business. Rules of origin determine the origin of goods, including raw materials and component parts, and whether tariffs should be charged.
“The fact is, companies trading with the EU did not need to know or understand customs until now. And there is not enough capacity at [customs] industry to provide the support it needs, “said Anna Jerzewska, founder of international trade consultancy Trade & Borders.
While large companies can cover new costs, small businesses have been hit hard. A survey of 132 exporters by the Small Business Federation in March found that 23% had temporarily suspended sales to the European Union and five had stopped permanently.
“Small traders are struggling, and are considering whether exports are worth pursuing again,” the organization’s national chairman Mike Cherry said in a statement last month.
Can the deal be fixed?
On Monday, a group of lawmakers, business leaders and economists announced an independent commission to scrutinize Britain’s trade deals with Europe and the rest of the world.
The UK Trade and Business Commission, which counts Virgin chairman Peter Norris among organizers, will make recommendations to the government on how to scale up this deal.
“We will take a detailed look at the impact of this deal, especially on small businesses bearing the brunt of the new bureaucracy on our borders,” said conservative lawmaker Roger Gale, who sits on the commission, in a statement. . “It’s about putting ideology aside and finding a pragmatic, evidence-based way forward,” he added.
The situation is especially urgent for food producers, who have seen their all-in-one exports but have been wiped out by new trade arrangements. From 1 January, all plant and animal products entering the EU require an export health certificate (EHC) which must be stamped by a government-certified veterinarian.
This prevents the Cheshire Cheese Company from selling to online buyers in the European Union because the price of the certificate is many times the average selling price of £ 25 ($ 34) to £ 50 ($ 69) per order.
Prior to Brexit, these sales were valued at around £ 180,000 ($ 247,800), or 20% of the company’s revenue, and are on track to hit £ 250,000 ($ 344,000) this year, according to managing director Simon Spurrell. “We used to have an ocean of opportunity, we dealt with 27 different countries. It quickly became a pool,” said Spurrell.
UK food and beverage exports collapsed in January, driven by a 76% drop in sales to the European Union compared with the same month last year, according to the Food and Beverage Federation. Salmon exports fell 98%, beef fell 92% and animal feed fell 80%. Whiskey exports fell 63%.
“The solution is to swallow our pride and reach a veterinary agreement,” said L. Alan Winters, founding director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex. “Without it we will see that animal products are unlikely to increase,” he added.
There are several other areas that also need attention.
For example, reciprocal recognition of professional qualifications, such as doctors, accountants and architects, still has to be agreed per sector. It hasn’t happened yet and it is a “big problem” facing businesses, said Thiru.
Johnson’s Brexit deal makes no provision for financial services, an industry that accounts for nearly 11% of government tax revenue and 1.1 million jobs, according to PwC and the Office for National Statistics.
The prospect of a deal that will give Britain the same market access rights as some other non-EU countries is looking slim, and it could further undermine London’s position as Europe’s top financial city.
Since the referendum, international financial services firms have transferred assets worth nearly £ 1.3 trillion ($ 1.8 trillion) and relocated 7,600 jobs from Britain to the European Union, according to data tracked by EY. Amsterdam has surpassed London as the top stock trading center in Europe.
“The days of significant asset announcements and job relocations appear to have passed and are likely to be replaced by a slower but sustained movement of people and assets to Europe for compliance purposes,” said Omar Ali, financial services management partner at EY, said in a monthly report. then.
Long term consequences
Leaving the EU single market means an end to frictionless trading and higher costs for British companies, even as they adjust to new ways of doing business.
“It’s important to realize that there are some teething problems, but there are also problems to come because the long-term consequences make it more difficult to trade back home,” Winters said.
That will encourage foreign direct investment into the UK over time as companies wishing to serve the European market will no longer choose to be based in the UK, he added.
The new trade relationship is expected to cause a long-term loss of output in the UK of around 4% compared to the rest in the European Union, according to the UK Office of Budget Responsibility, which produces economic forecasts for the government. Exports and imports will fall by about 15% in the long run.
According to Jerzewska, a trade expert, the main consequence is a gradual shift in supply chains as EU producers seek alternative suppliers. “Businesses are following the path of least resistance and new trade barriers could make UK suppliers less competitive in the EU market,” he said.