The UK is set to embark on a new beginning in January 2021 as an independent trading nation outside the European Union.
Things will be different after the UK transitions to this new relationship with our closest neighbours. Businesses that trade with the EU will need to change how they operate, complying with different regulations than before.
Many firms have taken action to get ready for this fresh start. And though negotiations with the EU are still ongoing about the precise nature of the future relationship, there are things that businesses will have to do regardless of the final shape of a deal or otherwise.
So it is really important that businesses act now to prepare for those guaranteed changes – especially if they’re exporters.
The good news is that the transition doesn’t have to be difficult.
“You just get it done”
John Mestitz is the third-generation boss at Watford electrical engineering firm Techna, who specialise in high-end products for projects across the world. The business was established by his grandfather in 1945.
It makes predominantly electrical switchgear components, but has expertise in everything from transportation engineering to motion control. Unsurprisingly, this UK manufacturing firm’s products are in demand from overseas.
John told us that he started looking at what he had to do to get ready for the UK’s new relationship back in 2019.
“We didn’t find it very difficult to prepare for once we started,” he tells us. “The biggest thing for us was just making sure we had all the right tariff codes for our thousands of products.”
“It took three people a week or so to do the preparation. Right now we’re about 85 per cent ready,” he continues. “There are a few things we need to do like duty deferments but in a couple of weeks we’ll be ready to go.”
Like many business leaders, John speaks formally and informally to his peers at other firms. He’s heard some of them are worried about what they will need do to be ready for the new start.
“I’ve heard a lot of businesses say it’s going to be difficult” he says from his own experience.
“But once you just get on and do it, it’s quite easy. You have to assign a few days to do it, sure, but once you sit down and decide to do it, the information is all there on gov.uk/transition and you just get it done.”
As a result, John feels confident about the new start in 2021. His firm grew well in the financial year to September, and next year should be a good one for this specialist engineering company.
“There is a lot of information”
For Jill Henry, the founder of outdoor clothing brand Meander Apparel, the key to navigating through the UK transition is preparation.
“For us, it’s getting all the paperwork in place so we’re prepared for different situations.”
She cites EORI numbers, tariff codes, customs codes and commodity codes – and ensuring the labels on her products are amended.
Her other main focus has been on the reliability of future delivery dates. “At the moment, I’ve got lots of moving parts – fabrics coming from Italy and Germany, and most of our goods are made in Portugal,” she says. “The biggest worry is that things (might) get held up at borders.”
So to mitigate this, Jill is buying bigger volumes of stock now – so that she doesn’t get caught short if there are delays in the immediate aftermath of the transition.
She has found websites including gov.uk/transition and that of the British Fashion Council useful.
She advises other brands follow suit. “Get onto the government websites, there is a lot of information there, and just be flexible,” she says.
A three-step process
The Government advises businesses to check whether they will need to make changes – for exporters and importers, there will be amendments that need to be made.
Then it’s time to make a decision – either use an agent like a fast parcel operator or a freight forwarder, or do it yourself.
And then vitally, act now. As John and Jill have shown, it doesn’t have to be difficult and it won’t be wasted work: some of the changes listed on gov.uk/transition will have to happen no matter what the final outcome of negotiations.
And the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be ready for the UK’s new start.