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Britain’s manufacturers are calling on the Government to work collaboratively with the EU to make exporting easier and improve our post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU - the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) - so companies both sides of the Channel can prosper and grow their businesses through the delivery of more frictionless trade.

Our latest trade bulletin, The TCA: 3 years on, published today, finds that 90% of manufacturers are still reporting challenges when trading with EU partners, a figure that has only fallen by 6% since the deal was signed in December 2020.

Customs paperwork and border delays prove the biggest barrier for 64% of companies, with logistics an issue for over half of exporters (52%). While, amid a chronic skills shortage in the sector, nearly half of manufacturers surveyed are reporting issues when recruiting from the EU (44%). Additionally, demonstrating rules of origin of goods is also still difficult for 36% of businesses, as they struggle to ensure that their goods meet the tariff-free rules of entry to the EU, by showing they contain sufficient product of UK origin.

Moving forward, nearly four in five manufacturers (77%) want to see cooperation with the EU continue to improve export procedures, customs administration and goods clearance. And in the spirit of the Windsor Framework, negotiated earlier this year to smooth the travel of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we too would like to see this level of collaboration with our main trading partner and its market, worth £260bn to the 74% of UK firms who favour exporting there.

This is why, on a UK-EU level, we’re calling for a simplified Trusted Trader scheme to be applied across all EU member states, along with the indefinite extension of CE marking recognition for all UK manufactured goods. While, internally, we’d like to see HMRC separate Customs from the rest of the department to give customs agents direct access to a dedicated team.

Additionally, we want business mobility to and from Europe – particularly around the arrangements for short-term working visas and mutual recognition of professional and technical qualifications – put at the top of the agenda, as we look to alleviate skills shortages. We’d also like to see the Trade Access Programme (TAP) reinstated to help businesses seek out new markets and grow business overseas, alongside an Export Council to deliver policy as part of a wider Industrial Strategy.
It is clear that manufacturers across the UK have performed strongly on the international stage in the last year with conditions remaining challenging. Since Britain left the EU,  companies have had to deal with the new trade arrangements of the TCA merging with global disruption brought about by the Covid pandemic. Yet Britain’s manufacturers have powered through to build international trade in new markets while navigating through the minefield of challenges which still remain in trading with our closest partner, the EU.

Government must jump on this potential and look to manufacturers as they continue to explore new markets further afield as well as closer to home. Reinstating the Trade Access Programme would help companies identify opportunities overseas and to move into new markets while providing in-market support would ensure companies get the correct advice in a time critical manner to help them compete successfully on the global stage.

What is fundamentally missing and needed is an Exports Council to deliver joined-up policy to support trade which should be incorporated into the body delivering an overarching Industrial Strategy here in the UK.

Stephen Phipson CEO, CBE, Make UK

Available resources

Industry report / Make UK