The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is calling for the UK government to broker a fair deal with the EU to ensure that retailers aren’t forced to pass on higher import costs to consumers – 52% of whom voted for it in Brexit – come 1 January 2021.
It has published a report today, “A Fair Deal for Consumers: EU Trade Roadmap”, outlining the retail industry’s priorities for the upcoming Government negotiations with the EU. The roadmap calls for pragmatic solutions on future compliance and regulatory checks that will apply from January 2021. Without these, consumers will face higher costs and reduced availability of goods.
Almost 80% of all the food that UK retailers import comes from the EU, making the EU negotiation particularly important for these essential goods. Most of this comes through Dover and Folkestone, the UK’s largest roll-on/roll-off ports, which handle almost 7,000 lorries every day – up to 10,000 during peak periods.
While the report makes clear that there is no possibility of return to frictionless trade under the Government’s red lines, there are key mitigations that could reduce the impact on consumers and retailers. These include making sure the UK gets:
- Zero tariff trade deal
- Cooperation with the EU to minimise trade friction
- Coordination on VAT, customs and excise procedures
- Advance information on new checks and paperwork
- Timely construction of necessary infrastructure at UK ports.
Without pragmatic solutions and agreements with the EU, companies may be required to produce VAT and excise documents, freight documents, health and veterinary paperwork, export health certificates, Exit and Entry summary declarations, and Safety and Security permits.
The Government must establish import and export processes along with the infrastructure needed to conduct necessary checks. Staff will need to be hired and trained to carry out these checks. IT systems must be adapted and tested. Holding facilities for lorries, particularly at Dover and Folkestone, will need to be constructed.
Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, explains: “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.”
She continues: “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 concludes: “Meanwhile, new IT systems will need to be created and tested before the 1 January 2021. Border Control Posts must be built, with people hired and trained to run. Unless these are ready and tested. The Government has no time to lose.”