EU shoots itself in foot: French businesses issue trade alert as Brussels demands backfire

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Business chiefs warned the scale of the problems faced by European firms trading with Britain is only just starting to hit home. Jean-Marc Barki, chief executive of manufacturer Sealock, said one of his trucks got stuck in the UK for seven weeks because of paperwork errors. “We went from a system of pure fluidity to a really complex one,” he told the FT.

His company is heavily reliant on the import of a UK-made synthetic component to produce its industrial adhesive.

The hold-up was sparked because paperwork required to import it into the EU’s single market from Britain was missing some important details.

Mr Barki said: “Those kinds of delays are unthinkable for a midsize company like us.”

He added his firm was pondering a change of recipe to include ingredients from further afield in Germany and Italy rather than the UK.

While the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement eliminates costly tariffs and quotas, businesses still must negotiate a complex web of red tape when shipping products from the UK to the EU.

Brussels refused to make special provisions for UK and EU firms trading in each other’s territories.

Former chief negotiator Michel Barnier often claimed Britain was trying to “cherrypick” access to the bloc’s single market by seeking to make trade easier.

It was often noted this would hit British firms that are reliant on exports to the bloc’s single market the hardest.

But the impact on EU businesses, particularly in France, has often been overlooked.

The latest French customs data for February shows a slight recovery in trade with the UK after the sharp slump witnessed in January.

In the first month after the post-Brexit trade pact entered into force, imports from the UK to France dropped to 78 percent of their monthly average.

Experts blamed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on world trade and disruptions at Britain’s border.

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Figures for February reveal a recovery, with imports from the UK to France down just two percent on their usual monthly average.

Exports to the UK were still down 16 percent compared to the same average for the second half of 2020.

France earns its largest trade surplus from the UK, importing much less than it exports.

But crucial industries, such as its wine, jewellery and aircraft, are heavily reliant on shipping products to the UK and were hit by the sharpest slumps in January.

Gavin Quinney, a wine merchant who sells most of his wine to Britain, said post-Brexit red tape was costly to his business.

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“A lot of people are reporting issues with customs declarations and new paperwork,” he said.

He also suggested that haulage costs had increased because trucks are returning empty from the UK to mainland Europe.

The wine merchant said: “There are literally no goods coming in from the UK at the moment so we agree to pay for the truck to come in empty.”

CPME, a union representing small and medium companies, has estimated that shipping costs have risen between €80 and €300.

Medef, France’s largest employer federation, said: “For small companies, not used to dealing with international trade, the additional costs and logistics can seem too much.

“Some are already considering abandoning the UK market.”

“The worst is yet to come,” Medef added, claiming the unequal implementation of the Brexit trade deal in some EU countries could added further hurdles for French firms.

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