North East business leaders heard two international trade policy speakers set out the challenges for companies as part of a week-long series of North East England Chamber of Commerce webinars on Brexit.
Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe and Dr Anna Jerzewska, director, Trade and Borders, were clear about the difficulties leaving the EU has created, in particular for SMEs, who may have never had to deal with customs declarations in the past.
Business uncertainty was often quoted as being so damaging before Brexit and Anand Menon said this has not disappeared but is merely now more limited. His view is that instability is baked into the UK’s relationship with the EU.
He explained the UK still has to implement what it has agreed with the EU, for example, in Northern Ireland, so it is still not clear how the deal will work in practice. The lack of clarity is potentially dangerous.
Dr Anna Jerzewska stressed there were a number of rules and regulations that were still not clear to businesses such as the rules of origin.
She said: “It’s important to remember that the border isn’t symmetrical and while the EU has implemented all checks and controls from day 1 the UK has not. There are also some additional easements for Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS)controls in Northern Ireland.”
In her speech she outlined how hard it was for smaller businesses to navigate the EU trading framework as it really required detailed knowledge and know-how, not helped by the national shortage of customs brokers.
The Chamber members also heard many businesses were being resilient and trying to adjust their supply chains to cope with changes to try and avoid delays and costs at the EU border.
She said in her view the first two months of the year were taken up with the new regulations and now there are cash flow challenges due to the costs of support to continue EU trading.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive, North East England Chamber of Commerce said: “We were delighted to hear two of the leading thinkers in our country, on leaving the EU. Their insights were extremely beneficial to our members who are really at the sharp end of the huge changes to their business operations. What was crystal clear in both Anand and Anna’s speeches was the urgent need for Government to stop being in denial about the difficulties and support companies to trade with Europe.”
The Chamber has a customs declaration and international trade team to help companies with documentation to trade with Europe for imports and exports, as well as growing worldwide.