Exports slow as Brexit confusion continues

While it was encouraging to see the latest figures from the Food and Drink Federation reveal that confectionery, and in particular chocolate, remained the UK’s second largest sector export, the results revealed British trade had slowed notably.

There are few prizes for guess that one of the prime reasons for this has been the continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit, yet this is a scenario that many argue could have been entirely avoided.

Had the UK government opted to select a clearly defined path to exiting the EU prior to triggering Article 50 that governs the process (as would be the case with almost all other government department policy formation), then British firms from all sectors, including within confectionery and bakery, would not have been left in limbo.

However, as it stands, what should have been the Brexit date of 29th March, has now been pushed back to at least 12th April, with no-one any the wiser as to quite how they are going to be trading with the continent.

This matters massively, as around 40% of our trade (with chocolate exports valued at £749 million for 2018), is conducted with the rest of Europe, so this has to continue for our economy to function.

So, it is little wonder that the FDF and other key organisations including the CBI have called for urgent resolution to the Brexit merry-go-round.

It is more than fair to say the issue has divided the nation as much as it has the UK Parliament, which has three times rejected the deal which Prime Minister Theresa May has placed before it – even offering her resignation into the bargain for its approval.

With parliament earning a historic opportunity to agree on alternatives to the government’s rejected deal, it left many observers, including from the EU side, bewildered that a consensus could not, as yet, be found.

Now it seems Theresa May is finally willing to listen to possibilities of accepting Labour party calls for creating a new trading customs union with the rest Europe as a compromise to her favoured withdrawal agreement.

With less than two weeks, possibly slightly more if the EU allows a second extension until next month, the prospects are not looking bright on the issue. But it is worth noting that as indecisive as our parliament has been, the EU has been equally reluctant to shift its negotiating position.

They say a week is a long time in politics – the next fortnight or so is doubtless going to seem like an eternity to many in industry who require the certainty of trading policies to get on with managing their businesses.

 

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