Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT), has responded to business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch’s speech at the Conservative Party conference.
In her address to the conference, being held in Manchester, Badenoch said that the UK had bounced back quicker than expected from the pandemic and rejected arguments that Brexit would lead exports to drop “to an all-time low”, adding that the UK had risen to become the world’s fifth largest exporter.
Commenting, Forgione called Badenoch’s words “timely”, but called on government to provide "support and guidance" ahead of a period in which businesses will need to grapple with further post-Brexit changes, including the introduction of new rules for imports under the Border Target Operating Model. He said:
“It is clear the secretary of state understands the challenges UK businesses face. The facts are clear. Businesses which trade internationally are more resilient, more sustainable, employ more people and are more profitable.
“To ensure that more British businesses trade overseas, and bring prosperity to communities across the UK, support and guidance is needed to navigate what is set to be a pivotal period in our history.”
To address the challenges and seize the opportunities international trade offers, Forgione called for clarity on three key issues:
“Firstly, the government needs to set out a comprehensive business growth plan covering both imports and exports, and the changes coming in which affect them. Firms need to feel confident that they can not only navigate these changes, but that they have sufficient time to prepare so that stock levels, deliveries and suppliers aren’t negatively impacted.
“Second, there needs to be more done to encourage MSMEs to use e-commerce platforms to trade internationally. IOE&IT is making progress here, with the launch of the E-Commerce Trade Commission, bringing together some of the world’s largest e-commerce platforms and offering advice to the Department for Business and Trade. More needs to be done to help guide small businesses to use those platforms.
“Third, we need to see a full commitment to the full digitalisation of trade documents. If this happened, it would add 1% - £25bn - to GDP. The UK has taken a leading position on this on the global stage; now is the time to drive that advantage home.
“We find ourselves at a critical moment in time. We have a golden opportunity here for British business to flourish – but they can only reap the rewards of efficient new border systems and trade deals if they are armed with the right skills and knowledge in plenty of time.”
Important 18 months
Speaking at the launch of an IOE&IT white paper about upcoming trade changes last week, Forgione said it was important for politicians of all parties to work together with businesses in order to help traders through the next year and a half.
Forgione called the UK’s international trading community “the launchpad of great change,” but warned of the impact of a series of new measures coming into effect over the next 18 months.
The Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) will be introduced in phases starting in January 2024, followed by another 23 other major legislative and policy changes set to affect businesses either directly or indirectly.
“Such a raft of new measures in so short a period is almost unheard-of. But it presents an enormous opportunity for Britain to reap the benefits of new trade deals and partnerships we are pursuing around the world.
“But we need businesses and policymakers pulling together in the same direction.
The white paper – The Border Target Operating Model and Beyond: Navigating changes to trade rules in the UK – contains over 20 major policy updates that will impact UK firms trading internationally between now and the end of 2024.