Friday, July 13, 2018

UK Warehousing and Freight Forwarding Bosses Comment on Brexit White Paper

How the Industry Reviews That Chequers Meeting
Shipping News Feature
UK – US – EUROPE – As the giant inflatable orange baby proceeds through the capital protesting his policies, it seems the mainstream press wishes to somehow make President Donald Trump's comments on the future of any trade deal between the UK and US as controversial. In the President's interview with the Sun newspaper, he made it clear that the Chequers agreement on terms of Brexit as they stand would prevent a direct deal with his country. Now the views of those representing the home market freight and logistics community on the recent White Paper have been made public after due consideration.

Trump’s comments are in fact simply logical, to appease the EU Britain will try and satisfy it that any trade deals are mutually arrived at, something it appears offends many Brexiteers, whilst the EU in turn shows no sign of allowing the UK to retain the power to negotiate independently with non EU countries. Brexit however is a multi-faceted beast, to some Britons it is the idea that payment of fees to an unelected body, with rules that govern them made under those auspices, are the key points for exiting. To others immigration policy is the issue, with the desire to vet all who wish to enter Britain, no matter their status in Europe.

To many in business however this is all about trade, retention of Common Market status (now there’s a memory) means negotiating as a larger and more influential body, to others it is a restriction on settling separate, more favourable deals. So what do the great and the good of the industry think and how do they view the published White Paper on that meeting? Peter Ward, CEO of the United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA) sees the situation thus:

”UKWA welcomes some of the content relating to plans for a facilitated customs arrangement (FCA), in so far that it responds to the call from business for minimal disruption to the free flow of goods between the UK and EU member states. It is pleasing that, unlike some other members of her party, Prime Minister May appears to be living in the real world and has listened to the needs of the business community.

”Since the referendum result was announced more than two years ago, UKWA has stressed the need to retain ‘frictionless trade’ with the EU and it appears from today’s document that the Government is attempting to avert any major upheaval in the way goods are traded between the EU and the UK. It remains to be seen however, whether this White Paper is a fanciful wish list aimed primarily at uniting a divided government, that will gain firstly the wider support of parliament, the country, and ultimately Brussels, or whether indeed it is purely a starting point for negotiation.

“Representing an industry that relies heavily on the contribution of European workers, and already facing an acute labour shortage, it is disappointing for UKWA that the White Paper appears somewhat vague on the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy. Whilst emphasising repeatedly that the free movement of people will come to an end, The White Paper says the detail of a new immigration policy will be published in a separate paper later this year. UKWA will continue to drive the essential, practical and consultative dialogue between the logistics industry and those influencing the policies that will affect the country for many years to come.”

The head of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) also gave a considered response to the document with Director General Robert Keen expressing mixed feelings about its contents. He observed:

“The White Paper addresses some of the issues that BIFA has highlighted over the past two years, including retaining something as close to the Single Market and Customs Union as is possible, with positive ideas on future Customs matters and international trading arrangements. But we have to remember that nothing in the White Paper is cast in stone.

“The proposals on Customs, where the UK is proposing to apply EU tariffs to EU goods passing through the UK, while having the freedom to set different tariffs on goods entering the UK, look complex and untested, something that has already seen negative comment from the EU.

“Other than a facilitated customs arrangement, I suspect that there will be other areas where there will be differences of opinion between the UK and EU. Notwithstanding the above, it is the most comprehensive and cogent proposal put forward by the UK Government to date and is a useful basis for negotiation with the EU. However, we need to be realistic. It still has to get through parliament, even before the negotiations in Brussels.”

And therein, to quote the Bard himself, lies the rub. The EU have already looked askance at this idea of a deal for maintenance of Free Market status for the UK, plus the option to negotiate separately on duties, and there seems no reason for it to change tack now, given that this would doubtless lead to similar demands from some existing members.

The clock is ticking and before we reach a ‘who blinks first’ scenario there are still many obstructions in the path of the Prime Minister before a satisfactory arrangement is reached. One definition of a good deal is when all rise from the table smiling. What is increasingly obvious is that there are likely to be some hangdog looks when the smoke clears and not everyone is going to be happy, no matter how good the terms to one or other.

Photo: Theresa May welcomes the President to Blenheim Palace.