New import charges set to affect small businesses

Written by: Rachel Miller

Date: 30 April 2024

Lorries parked up in a customs control area

Both the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses have raised concerns about the impact of new customs charges on small firms.

British businesses must now pay charges of up to £145 for imports of plant and animal products (from April 30). It will be the first time for decades that firms will have to pay such fees for EU imports of goods arriving in Great Britain, and, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), many businesses are unprepared for the change.

Depending on the exporter's classification, the charges will either be paid by the EU exporter or the British importer - either way, the BCC predicts that these costs are likely be passed on to British consumers.

Government figures show that the UK imports just under 30% of all the food it consumes from the EU, suggesting that many retailers, cafes and restaurants will be affected by the new rules.

"While the government did consult on the new charges being introduced, it chose not to listen. The size of these costs shows scant regard to the interests of either businesses or consumers. A flat rate fee for bringing most animal and plant products into the UK is a hammer blow for small and medium-sized importers. It's also deeply concerning for retailers, cafes and restaurants." William Bain, head of trade policy, BCC.

The BCC says that government needs to do more to protect small businesses. William Bain, head of trade policy at BCC, said: "The government should immediately exclude firms in the trusted trader scheme from these charges which would give many smaller businesses some relief. But in the long-term, these checks and costs should be done away with by reaching an agri-food deal with the EU, something we have consistently called for."

Confusion over import checks

There is also uncertainty around which consignments will be subject to checks. According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), officials from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) say new checks may not be turned on as expected. The FSB says that the government has heaped "an extra layer of confusion on small firms".

"The system is in complete disarray. The government has bypassed formal channels and left small firms out of the conversation … Many have invested considerable time and money making sure they're getting it right, but now they're left scratching their heads at the conflicting messages coming out of Whitehall - will they or won't they face these checks and have to start paying on April 30? Small firms deserve clarity, and they really do not have time to decode messy and unclear Whitehall messages that contradict each other." Martin McTague, FSB national chair.

The government has said it will prioritise some checks. A UK government spokesperson said: "Checks are commencing from 30 April and, as we have always said, the medium and high-risk goods posing the greatest biosecurity risk are being prioritised as we build up to full check rates and high levels of compliance. Taking a pragmatic approach to introducing our new border checks minimises disruption, protects our biosecurity and benefits everyone - especially traders."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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