BRC: Government must negotiate zero-tariff EU trade agreement

The UK government must act now and establish import/export processes and all necessary infrastructure before new European Union (EU) trade-related compliance and regulatory checks come into effect on 1 January 2021.

That is the message from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which today (17 February) launched its report, “A Fair Deal for Consumers: EU Trade Roadmap”, outlining the retail industry’s priorities for the upcoming government negotiations with the EU, in the wake of the UK’s departure from the union.

In the document, the trade association calls for pragmatic solutions on future compliance and regulatory checks that will apply from January 2021. Without these, it warns, consumers will face higher costs and reduced availability of goods.

Almost 80% of all the food UK retailers import comes from the EU, which the BRC said makes the negotiation particularly important for these essential goods. Most of these products come through Dover and Folkestone, the UK’s largest roll-on/roll-off ports, which handle almost 7,000 lorries every day and up to 10,000 during peak periods.

The lobby group also said IT systems must be created and tested before the 1 January 2021 deadline, adding that border control posts must be built, with people hired and trained to use these new systems. Now is the time to act, it said.

Helen Dickinson, CEO 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.”

She added: “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.”

According to the BRC report, there is no possibility of a return to frictionless trade – as any deal will involve the introduction of certificates of origin, transit certificates or barcodes, customs valuations documents, destination paperwork and more – but it notes there are key mitigations that could reduce the impact on consumers and retailers.

These include a zero-tariff trade deal, co-operation with the EU to minimise trade friction, co-ordination on VAT, customs and excise procedures, and advance information on new checks and paperwork.

Without pragmatic solutions and agreements with the EU, the BRC says 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.

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