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Survey finds half of UK exporters are struggling to adapt to changes relating to EU-UK goods trade

Results from the first major business survey for 2021 by the British Chambers of Commerce on Brexit found that half of exporters are facing difficulties in adapting to new trade regulations.

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Adam Marshall, BCC director general

The survey sought to understand the extent to which businesses found it easy or difficult to adapt to changes in trading goods and/or services and moving people in the month since the ratification of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

Fieldwork for the survey, which received 1,000 responses, mainly from SMEs, was carried out between January 18 and 31. Nearly half of respondents exported goods or services.

The survey found that about a third of respondents reported difficulties adapting to changes to moving or trading goods in the first month of the year, while 10 per cent said they had found adapting to the changes easy.

Forty-five per cent said trade in goods was not applicable to their business, and 16 per cent said it was too early to say.

However, the percentage facing difficulties in adapting to changes in trading goods rose for exporters, where half reported issues, as well as manufacturers, where the percentage facing difficulties was more than half.

Overall, 14 per cent of firms said that they faced difficulties in adapting to changes in the trade of services. Ten per cent said they had found adapting to the changes easy. The percentage facing difficulties rose for exporters, where 21 per cent reported issues.

When asked about the specific difficulties businesses were facing, commonly cited concerns included increased administration, costs, delays, and confusion about what rules to follow.

The increase in paperwork to fill in was an issue for Shropshire Chamber of Commerce member and kitchenware company, Netherton Foundry.

“Increased documentation means that we need to use higher paid staff to complete shipping details. Loss of orders due to new duty/customs arrangements; time (and therefore money) spent resolving European customers enquiries; cost of implementing new shipping arrangements and delivery charges on our website. A small business like ours does not have the resources to deal with all the extra work," the firm said.

The BCC said it will continue to support UK businesses through its trade documentation services and Chamber Customs, a customs advisory, training and brokerage service delivered through Chambers of Commerce across the UK, and by working closely with the Government.

The business group is calling on the Government, and where necessary with EU partners, to work with us and the Chamber network to identify the most significant blockages for business and immediately publish plans for resolving those problems.

Adam Marshall, BCC director general,  said:  “Trading businesses – and the UK’s chances at a strong economic recovery – are being hit hard by changes at the border.

“The late agreement of a UK-EU trade deal left businesses in the dark on the detail right until the last minute, so it’s unsurprising to see that so many businesses are now experiencing practical difficulties on the ground as the new arrangements go live.

“For some firms these concerns are existential, and go well beyond mere ‘teething problems’. It should not be the case that companies simply have to give up on selling their goods and services into the EU. Ministers must do everything they can to fix the problems that are within the UK’s own control, and increase their outreach to EU counterparts to solve the knotty issues that are stifling trade in both directions.

“This situation could get worse if the UK sticks to its guns and introduces additional SPS checks in April and full customs checks on imports in July. These timescales need to change – and the support available for businesses who are battling to adapt to new trading conditions significantly increased.”

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