Most manufacturers struggling with EU exports while upcoming import checks a concern, report finds

Wed 6 Dec 2023
Posted by: Will Barns-Graham
Trade News

A vast majority of UK manufacturing exporters are continuing to experience difficulties trading with the EU, despite almost three years having passed since the introduction of the post-Brexit EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreements.

This is according to a new paper from manufacturing trade body Make UK, reported in the FT, which finds that nine out of 10 manufacturers still face challenges with their EU trade.

BTOM worries

The same report also found that delayed post-Brexit controls on imports into Britain from the EU, which are due to start being introduced from 31 January under the UK government’s Border Target Operating Model, are set to cause “additional friction between EU suppliers and supply chain customers”.

Over a third (36%) of UK companies told Make UK that EU companies were becoming less willing to work with them as a result.


This was the third iteration of the body’s post-Brexit survey with previous polls being conducted three and six months after the TCA came into force at the start of 2021.

Make UK’s CEO, Stephen Phipson, told the FT that manufacturers were still trying their best to trade internationally, but were dealing with a “minefield of challenges”.

He called for a joint-up approach to trade support and policy, involving both government and industry, as well as an overarching industrial strategy.

“What is needed is an exports council to deliver a joined-up policy to support trade which should be incorporated into the body delivering an overarching industrial strategy here in the UK,” he said.

This sentiment has been shared by Institute of Export & International Trade’s (IOE&IT) director general Marco Forgione, who has previously called for a new industrial strategy covering both exports and imports.

IOE&IT view

Fergus McReynolds, director of EU public affairs at IOE&IT, said Make UK’s report was revealing of the continuing difficulties faced by manufacturers in both the UK and EU:

“What is clear from the report is that UK businesses face particular challenges when existing partnerships with EU firms come to an end and in finding new business. It is essential that the UK and EU maximise the cooperation under the TCA to find solutions to ease the flow of trade.

“This includes looking at regulatory cooperation and enhanced customs facilitation as well as making sure businesses are alive to and ready for changes such as the UK BTOM and the EU’s own customs reforms.”

Pragmatism needed

Earlier this year, Phipson called for a new era of pragmatism in the UK-EU relationship, “rather than thumping the table or issuing threats”.

He told Sky News that a previously more confrontational approach from the UK government had been “damaging our exports to the EU”, but welcomed the more conciliatory approach adopted by current prime minister Rishi Sunak, following the agreement of the Windsor Framework for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 

Make UK also reported that the UK had overtaken France to become the world’s eight largest manufacturer in September.