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How Chocolate Exposes Brexit Trade Risks

Sean Ramsden and his family have been shipping British food abroad since the U.K. joined the European Union more than four decades ago.

How Chocolate Exposes Brexit Trade Risks

For most of that time, delivering to the single market has been simple, at least compared with what Ramsden must do to clear customs from Beijing to Dubai. The paperwork accompanying non-EU orders of classic British items like Malteser chocolate balls and the thousands of other products he distributes can run to over an inch thick. In all, his company needs to know how to complete 49 different kinds of document.

In less than two years, Ramsden may encounter similar bureaucratic demands from the 27 remaining EU states in a post-Brexit landscape.

It all depends on whether Prime Minister Theresa May secures the sweeping free-trade deal with the bloc she aspires to by the March 2019 exit deadline. The EU has been adamant that, after voting to leave last year, Britain won’t simply be able to negotiate an agreement that keeps the status quo. The two sides resumed talks last month with the EU’s chief negotiator expressing mounting frustration at the pace of progress.

“The import tariffs aren’t what impairs trade — it’s the non-tariff barriers, the complexity,” Ramsden, 46, said at his company’s headquarters in the northern port town of Grimsby as workers nearby loaded pallets with Golden Syrup destined for Denmark. “It’s in everyone’s interest for that to be kept sensible.”

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