British exporters urge the government to alleviate trade barriers with the EU following Brexit.

Despite Johnson’s assurance of ‘no non-tariff barriers’, companies claim to be struggling under the ‘compliance burden’ of customs and safety checks.

According to the British Chambers of Commerce, nearly two-thirds of British exporters have found selling to the EU more challenging in the past year. The organization is urging the government to do more to ease trade frictions post-Brexit.

Even three years after Boris Johnson signed the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU, small businesses, which make up a significant portion of the BCC’s membership, are still facing difficulties in navigating trade barriers.

Among exporters to the EU, 60% of respondents in the BCC’s latest survey stated that it had become more difficult compared to a year ago. In contrast, only 18% of exporters to non-EU countries reported experiencing the same difficulty.

Only 14% of exporters agreed that the TCA was contributing to their business growth, while 49% disagreed.

“The thing about Brexit is, it’s not a static mechanism,” said William Bain, the BCC’s head of trade policy. “You’re dealing with a growing compliance burden that has been steadily increasing over the past 12 months. It introduces more paperwork and increased costs.”

Although the TCA was initially praised for ensuring tariff-free exports to the EU and Johnson’s statement about ‘no non-tariff barriers’, exporters have encountered new customs and safety checks, as well as diverging regulatory regimes.

Exporters have reported “ever-changing” and “onerous” phytosanitary requirements for food exports, challenging paperwork, and inconsistent application of customs rules.

The report also highlights compliance with EU sanctions on Russian steel and the new “carbon border adjustment mechanism”, which requires steel exporters to the EU to disclose their emissions and will eventually apply to a broader range of industries. The UK government recently announced plans to implement a similar scheme.

The BCC is calling for improved collaboration with the EU regarding future regulations, enabling businesses to be better prepared for changes.

Bain added, “This autumn has been a firefighting exercise, trying to get UK companies in a position where they feel comfortable after the regulations have been implemented. We need to get ahead of the curve. The solution is stronger regulatory cooperation processes, so that ministers are involved, and we have timely guidance and communication for businesses to comply.”

While many of the issues raised by businesses are familiar, the BCC also expressed concern about future EU regulations that many survey respondents are unaware of. For example, more than 80% were unfamiliar with the carbon border adjustment mechanism, and 70% did not know about new checks on food imports from the EU set to be implemented next month.

Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business and trade secretary, said, “The government’s constant chaos is hindering businesses that want to trade abroad and grow. Companies that wish to export are facing endless uncertainty and bureaucracy because the Conservatives have failed to fulfill their promises. Labour has a plan to make Brexit work, and we will support our fantastic exporters by removing practical trade barriers through our small business export taskforce.”

A government spokesperson responded, “The facts show that British businesses are actually thriving. In the year to June, we exported over £360bn worth of goods and services to the EU, an increase of 17.1% in current prices compared to the previous 12 months. Our economy has also grown faster than Germany, France, and many European countries since we left the EU. We acknowledge that there are still some issues, and we are listening to businesses and addressing their concerns by working closely with the EU to find solutions.”

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