The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has launched its vision of the kind of EU trade deal that it believes would work for both shoppers and retailers following the UK’s exit from the European Union.
In the document, A Fair Deal for Consumers, the BRC says that zero tariffs and “pragmatic solutions” on compliance and regulatory checks are essential for trade both between Great Britain and the EU and between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It says that ports and IT systems must be ready to cope with increased levels of checks.
The BRC warns that without a good deal, shoppers face reduced choice and availability of goods, compared to today when four million lorries cross UK borders every year and Dover currently handles 6,850 freight movements a day between the UK and the continent. The BRC says that delaying a driver with a refrigerated lorry at a port costs £500 a day, while Dover currently has no physical infrastructure for holding goods ahead of customs clearance. It says a good deal is also needed in order to lift red tape requirements from customs and product rules.
At the moment, the UK is in a transition period following its departure from the EU that guarantees frictionless trade as through alignment with the EU customs union and single market until the end of the year. Currently, says the BRC, almost 80% of food imported by UK retailers comes from the EU, mostly through Dover and Folkestone.
But from January 1, customs declarations and regulatory requirements including certification of origin, safety and security and transit will be required, along with documentation for freight, customs value and health and veterinary checks unless a zero tariff, low friction deal can be reached.
The BRC says that while the government’s red lines mean that entirely frictionless trade is not an option, a zero tariff trade deal that includes cooperation with the EU to minimise trade friction, and coordinated VAT, customs and excise procedures could all help to reduce the amount of friction involved. In addition, the government must build the infrastructure that will be necessary at UK ports – and retailers and suppliers must have time to test the new systems before January.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “The issue is simple – higher tariffs and extensive checks will harm consumers, retailers, and the UK economy. The Government must set about to negotiate a zero tariff agreement that minimises checks and red tape otherwise it will be consumers who suffer as a result.
“The introduction of excessive or avoidable checks would mean businesses face a mountain of paperwork to be filled out by an army of newly trained staff, coupled with exhaustive checks on thousands of lorries every day. And the result for consumers would be higher costs and reduced availability on the shelves.”
Dickinson added that new IT systems needed to be set up and tested and border control posts built and property staffed before January 1 next year. She added: “The Government has no time to lose.”