UK businesses say barrier-free EU trade is a must for Brexit negotiations

Three quarters of UK businesses say barrier-free trade with the EU is more important than restricting the free movement of people in Brexit negotiations.

Just six per cent of British businesses want the government to prioritise curbing immigration during the Brexit negotiations – while 74 per cent want the government to focus on securing barrier-free trade with the EU.

The findings are included in ‘Defending cross-border trade‘, a new report into the impact protectionism and Brexit will have on trade from GS1 UK, a not-for-profit organisation that licenses barcodes and aims to facilitate global trade. The findings are based on a survey of more than 1,000 British businesses, employing in excess of 100,000 people.

Theresa May has said that, while Britain will be outside the single market, it may be possible to preserve some of our access to it – even if that means Britain continuing to make financial contributions to the EU.

When GS1 UK asked British business, 49 per cent say they would prefer the UK to continue making financial contributions to the EU to preserve access for trade while just a third (33 per cent) say they would prefer the money was spent on cutting taxes here in the UK.

The report also finds 59 per cent of British businesses are worried EU leaders will impose tariffs on UK trade as a penalty for leaving to the EU. The poll suggested British businesses are not reassured by economic arguments suggesting Brexit will work because the EU needs it to – that tariffs cut both ways and that no matter what happens, Germany will still want to sell its cars to Britain, as will France its wine.

GS1 UK also polled business on their preference for a new trade deal: 76 per cent view an EU/UK trade deal as more important than a US/UK deal.

Gary Lynch, CEO of GS1 UK, says, ‘In the Brexit negotiations, business is clear. Gaining access to the single market for British exports should take priority over rolling back the free movement of people. And if we have to pay for access to the EU, then so be it. British business tells us loud and clear that a trade deal with the EU is even more important to them than a deal with the US.’

Protectionism

GS1 UK’s research finds that, in face of a growing wave of protectionism, the vast majority of British businesses (87 per cent) believe the government needs to do more to explain the benefits of free trade to the public. Business is overwhelmingly against protectionism with only 4 per cent of UK firms supporting policies which restrain trade between countries. A majority of businesses (53 per cent) agreed that trade helps lift people out of poverty – with only 14 per cent saying that it doesn’t.

Lynch says, ‘For decades there has been a consensus that free trade brings more jobs, higher wages, and lower prices. That’s changing. Donald Trump’s inauguration speech proclaimed a new age of American protectionism. He’s not alone. Marine Le Pen regularly attacked trade in the race for the French presidency. But British business bucks that populist trend.

‘British business wants Theresa May to make the case for free trade – and stop protectionism spreading any further. For 40 years, GS1 has been to helping businesses trade freely across borders using a global language of business. But as an organisation we can see our mission and purpose being undermined by the resurgence of protectionism.’

GS1 UK’S Agenda for export

GS1 UK surveyed British businesses to draw up an agenda for export – an overt course of action for the government to follow to facilitate cross-border trade.

The findings show:
66 per cent think the government should tackle Britain’s transport infrastructure – including airport expansion – as a matter of urgency
66 per cent want the government to work towards the elimination of customs duties
62 per cent want the government to lower corporation tax to 12.5 per cent – similar to Ireland
59 per cent of British businesses want to see better access to export financing for SMEs
58 per cent think the government should introduce export tax credits
55 per cent want the government to allow the free movement of labour from the EU to continue
47 per cent agree that the UK should slash EU red tape – only 25 per cent disagree
41 per cent want the UK to go even further and adopt a non-interventionist model similar to that of Hong Kong – just 18 per cent disagree.

Lynch adds, ‘We need to stop thinking about what export can do for our government – and start thinking about what our government can do for exports. British exporters are keen to put their faces into the wind of international competition and are confident of success despite the geopolitical challenges of protectionism and Brexit – providing the government gives them the support they need by working towards the elimination of customs duties, lower corporation tax and improved access to export financing for SMEs.

‘While trade deals will be secured over time. British businesses also tell us that investment in our transport infrastructure must happen now. We need will need to expand Heathrow quickly and step-up high-speed rail to keep up with international competition.’

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