UK’s smallest firms divert £10bn in exports away from EU

Via Yahoo Finance

Britain’s smallest companies are “jumping before they are pushed” by diverting £10bn in exports away from the EU as concerns mount over a possible collapse in Brexit trade talks, according to a report.

The research from academics at Aston University, which comes before the latest round of Brexit negotiations this week, showed small British firms were ramping up sales to countries in South America and east Asia.

Suggesting such firms were taking evasive action to avoid the collapse of talks before the end of this year, the researchers they had switched more than £10bn a year in exports to other markets since the 2016 Brexit vote.

Hopes for a trade deal between London and Brussels are rapidly fading as the end of the Brexit transition in December draws closer, with both sides focused on responding to Covid-19 and seemingly at loggerheads over the future trading relationship.

Following a drift towards stalemate in recent days, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, used an interview in the Sunday Times to accuse Boris Johnson of backsliding on Britain’s commitments.

Johnson has so far ruled out extending the EU transition deal. The prime minister is also coming under pressure after the government confirmed there would be checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK from January, despite his previous assurances this would not be the case.

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and first minister of Northern Ireland, said on Sunday that checks should be minimised to ensure they do not damage its economy.

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The research from Aston University analysed 340,000 export transactions by 26,000 UK firms over a five-year period. Academics said they found the smallest “micro exporters” had switched as much as 46% of their new export growth from EU to non-EU markets since the Brexit referendum. Small firms switched up to 19%.

With much of the growth in countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, as well as the commonwealth, the research could bolster Brexit supporters’ arguments that Britain can embrace global trading opportunities outside the EU.

However, official figures show the share of UK exports to the EU has generally fallen over time, as businesses have been able to raise their sales elsewhere around the world without Britain needing to exit the bloc.

The EU still remains the UK’s single most important trading partner, accounting for about half of all imports and exports in a relationship worth about £650bn a year.

The academics said the coronavirus crisis exposing the fragility of long-distance supply chains could also hinder future expansion by British companies.

Jun Du, professor of economics at Aston Business School, said: “This evidence suggests that UK exporters are jumping before they’re pushed – finding alternative markets worldwide for their products even before we know the outcome of the current UK-EU trade negotiations and any potential new barriers.”

“Of course, we will need to see whether these patterns still hold true in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.”