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British businesses are navigating uncertain waters post-EU exit

Date: March 17, 2021

Category: Industry news

In the third instalment of GS1 UK’s Powering Progress webinar series, our panel of experts explored how business has changed since the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was signed on 30 December 2020

Chaired by Warwick Smith, senior advisor for global public policy at communications consultancy, Instinctif Partners, the panel was drawn from the world of business and regulation, and looked at what new layers of bureaucracy would mean for British business, and what the immediate and long-term future might bring for UK company owners. 

Chris Tyas OBE of GS1 UK and Defra’s Food Resilience Industry Forum was joined by Jatin Bhurabhai from the Department of International Trade (DIT), Victoria Boldison, CEO and founder of Bolst Global, as they unpicked the impact of Brexit on UK industry.


GS1 UK Brexit webinar - panel

A new landscape

From the outset, the panel were keen to stress that the new trading environment provided systemic challenges for companies that had been used to doing business in a certain way.

Boldison said that fundamental changes to paperwork were extremely important, underlining that: “these documents are also acting specifically as customs documentation as well.”

She went on to mention that new demands with regards to certification were “suddenly something that businesses have had to adapt to,” and made specific reference to provision of “health certificates, vet certificates for products of any on animal origin, phytosanitary certificates for any plant-based products with seeds involved.”

Boldison was frank about the effects of the new red-tape load for business owners and their balance sheets: “Let's not forget some of these certifications do come at a cost, which then needs to ultimately be factored into some of their pricing structures.”

Preparation is crucial   

As the panel moved on to talking about the new UK-EU border regime, they agreed that preparation and leaning on expertise were vital to lighten the load on UK companies.

Tyas was clear about treating any future extensions to timelines around regulatory requirements as a “learning period, not just a hope that it might change completely….talk to the supplier and learn how they expect to behave. And take advantage of those learning periods for preparation.” 

He also highlighted “the importance of taking a customs agent who has a physical presence in those short straights, in Calais, Boulogne” to assist with any transport problems that may arise at the border. “You do need to make sure that you have somebody on site at weekends, at night, when the vehicle is there with the necessary language capabilities to sort out the issues.” 

VAT, GDPR and the evolution of trade

One of the major issues experienced by companies since the signing of the EU-UK CTA has been the change in VAT. “The VAT changes are significant” said Boldison “new EU VAT reform which is taking place from the 1st of July will have significant impact, a positive impact overall I would say for British companies trading within the EU.

“There will be a new system, an IOSS, import one-stop shop, that's coming into play….And that will help when accounting for VAT and will allow companies to declare VAT at point of sale rather than at point of importation which I know a lot of clients and companies who are working – particularly direct to consumer through the online channel – have had a lot of problems with.”

Bhurabhai delineated upcoming measures and milestones that would need ongoing attention: “There's the evolving nature of travel of goods between the UK and Northern Ireland. But there's also going to be things like data adequacy when GDPR and the data agreements between the UK and the EU are going to come into play later this year.

“We need to make sure that you're aware of them through working with, through keeping an eye on them and the best way to do that is trade associations or an ITA [international trade advisor] or a specialist.”

Tyas was unequivocal about the need for preparedness: “Get advice. Get a good freight forwarder in use and use the trade associations behind it. And if you do have issues, make sure they are raised and there is visibility of those.”

Continuity and opportunity

DIT’s Bhurabhai stressed that as well as “some things….waiting to find equilibrium,” a lot of work had been done “to try and create continuity agreements with different governments where the EU had competency before to negotiate trade deals on behalf of all EU members.”

He cited the example of the UK Government’s intention to apply for membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership “that counts 11 countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Japan. That's 500 million people. It's a £9 trillion partnership. We already do over £111 billion of trade with the group and it's been growing at 8 per cent plus over the last five years.”

Boldison was pragmatic about the obstacles but upbeat about the potential that the new trading environment could bring: “If you are committed and serious about continuing with international trade, it's a strategic part of your business and your growth strategy, then you should definitely stick with it. 

“I know it's difficult and it's challenging right now. But stick with it because I believe this offers a number of opportunities globally in the longer term. 

“I do think there's going to be a consolidation of suppliers from GB going out because some businesses will fall off, some of them will stop trading. And that can actually open up more potential opportunities for you in the future in the EU.”