A day doesn’t go past now without a news item about Brexit and with major talks scheduled for December it’s all very tense. The magnitude of work required to leave the EU seems to be hitting home. Talking to colleagues there is a feeling that it will work itself out. It has to, doesn’t it?
There are likely to be many more twists and turns and a deal will probably be done, but on what terms? As a business owner this uncertain future doesn’t help when you are trying to plan, especially when it’s combined with a fragile UK economy and unstable political environment.
There has been a lot of talk about the tariffs that may come into play if there is a hard Brexit, aka “no deal”. Tariffs are a protectionist measure countries adopt to enhance the competitiveness of industries in their economies. They work by applying what is effectively a mark up on goods entering the country thus making them more expensive compared to home made products.
Under World Trade Organisation rules, which the UK has signed up to, tariffs are not allowed to put at a disadvantage or advantage one country against another. So for example the UK government could not hit back at France for forcing a hard Brexit by applying a 70% tariff on cheese. Instead the tariff that applies to the “most favoured nation” i.e. the lowest must apply to all others. This is known as the MFN rate.
With the MFN weighted average of the EU in 2013 being around 2.3% you might argue that the benefit of being in the single market was reducing. But that’s not the whole story as the MFN tariff varies quite a lot on different products. On cars for example it’s around 10%. If the UK matched this rate on Brexit then cars imported from Europe would cost around 10% more on 1 April than 31 March 2019.
One other issue we need to be aware of is the reverse. Exporters whose goods are currently flowing into Europe tariff free may see the effective price of their goods rise if tariffs are added and therefore their competitiveness reduce against their EU competitors.
I guess that the silver lining is that it won’t come to this BUT what happens if it does? What impact will it have on your profits? How prepared are you?
As I was writing this, this Facebook advert popped up on my feed re-enforcing my view that we need to start planning now.
However, whilst planning might be difficult one thing you can do in preparation is research. Many of my clients have supply chains that stretch into Europe. Some buy directly from companies in France, Spain and Italy et al. others from companies in the UK who buy from Europe. Do you know where the goods you buy come from and what would you need to do if there were a 2.5%, 5.0% or 10% increase in prices because of the application of a tariff? Can you source goods from UK producers? Does your business model need to change? These are all questions I think you should have the answers to just in case.