'What's the advantage of all this?' - Business owners on trade one year since Brexit
- Credit: Archant
Businesses in Suffolk have faced more "red tape and bureaucracy" during the first year of Brexit, according to two company owners.
The UK formally left the European Union (EU) and its single market on January 1, 2021, and all goods entering or leaving the country since then have been subject to border checks and paperwork.
Two Suffolk firm owners have outlined how the changes have affected their businesses.
Malcolm Stafford, who runs two companies in Felixstowe - logistics provider CVCUK Ltd and Mayan Rainforest Company Ltd - said trading conditions between the UK and EU have "returned to the 1970s".
The Mayan Rainforest Company, managed by Mr Stafford, is a Mexican-owned company which produces biodegradable, organic chewing gum called Chicza.
Previously, after the product was imported to the UK, the company could supply customers in the UK and Europe in a frictionless manner.
But since leaving the single market, Mr Stafford has had to move the entire operation to Holland due to extra difficulties and costs.
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"All the containers and air freights now go straight to Holland rather than the UK," Mr Stafford said.
"We've got customers in the UK and it's even got to the situation now where bringing it in from Holland to the UK is a nightmare in itself.
"We're now having to think whether to continue with the UK at all, which is a ridiculous position to be in."
CVC Ltd also handle regular shipments of artwork, which is displayed, and possibly sold, at art galleries throughout the EU.
But Mr Stafford said it is now necessary to prepare customs declarations from the EU and into the UK, and pay UK Import VAT - which has made it extremely expensive and cumbersome exhibiting the art in the UK.
"All of this added bureaucracy for shipments between the EU and the UK is a return to 1970s trading conditions and these are just two examples of the experiences we have had and are by no means the only disappointing disruptions to trade we have had to face," he added.
"What is the advantage of all this? What are we actually getting? I wasn't a great fan of the EU by any means but it's a damn sight better than what we've got now."
Philip Gough, who runs a book exporting and importing business called European Book Marketing Ltd near Halesworth, echoed the comments of Mr Stafford.
He said: "There's a lot more paperwork, which is ironic because I thought one of the alleged gains of leaving the EU was that it was bureaucratic and full of red tape. Well there's far more now than there was when we were members, at least for traders.
"There are higher costs, the customs charges, freight costs more and it obviously impacts on my ability to make a profit. Deliveries take longer, obviously, because they have to go through two lots of customs.
"It could not have been easier or simpler when we were members of the EU. Everything since then has added bureaucracy, red tape and costs."
Mr Gough's company supplies museums in Europe and customers include the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
He said he has had to "reassure" his valued customers that business will continue to run smoothly.
He added: "Although I've had these customers for 10 years and cultivated good relationships with them, I have to reassure them that I will go out of my way to make sure that I deal with any difficulties, and as far as I'm concerned my customers shouldn't be inconvenienced. So I have to make sure everything goes smoothly and I absorb all the costs."
Mike Chapman, international trade manager at the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said the organisation is working to help "enthuse and inform" businesses about trade following the changes.
“While recognising trading isn’t easy and trade with the EU is now more complex and challenging than it was, it still can be done and there are rewards and opportunities," he said.
"I’m pleased that we are working to help enthuse and inform businesses about these possibilities, regardless as to whether they are existing international traders or contemplating entering into overseas arrangements for the first time.
“As well as helping to answer specific queries, the intelligence gathered from our interactions with hundreds of Suffolk businesses is used by Suffolk chamber’s public affairs and policy teams and with the British Chambers of Commerce to alert government departments to key challenges and issues and to encourage them to take appropriate action.”
Speaking on New Year's Eve, prime minister Boris Johnson said the government will go "further and faster" to maximise the opportunities of Brexit.
He said: "We’ve replaced free movement with a points-based immigration system.
"We’ve secured the fastest vaccine rollout anywhere in Europe last year by avoiding sluggish EU processes. And from Singapore to Switzerland, we’ve negotiated ambitious free trade deals to boost jobs and investment here at home.
"But that’s not all. From simplifying the EU’s mind-bogglingly complex beer and wine duties to proudly restoring the crown stamp onto the side of pint glasses, we’re cutting back on EU red tape and bureaucracy and restoring common sense to our rulebook.
"The job isn’t finished and we must keep up the momentum.
"In the year ahead my government will go further and faster to deliver on the promise of Brexit and take advantage of the enormous potential that our new freedoms bring."