Germany’s confectionery sector feels the pinch of Brexit just as equally as the UK

Trading stakes remain high as Brexit plays out its final twisting festive chapter

The latest warning from Germany’s BDSI confectionery sector organisation that its exports remain notably challenged due to Brexit offer further evidence that the matter is far from settled across Europe.

When the UK left the EU at the end of last year, the 11th hour agreement promoted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hailed as ‘a great deal’ that would boast tariff-free access to the continent, and that there would be no negative impact for businesses as a result of the fundamental re-alignment of trading arrangements that would result from Britain’s departure from the bloc.

Forget any of the political minefields surrounding the subject, sadly, eight months on from the fateful decision, and the reality is glaringly obvious – there has been a notable array of negative financial and logistics impacts on companies both in the UK as well as right across Europe in the wake of Brexit, which appear anything but a ‘slight blip in proceedings’ that those behind the policies believe would occur.

Concerns have routinely been dismissed as mere ‘project fear’ fantasies – well that cat is well and truly out of the bag now, amid 100,000 lorry driver shortages, port delays/goods-based paperwork complications and delivery problems for businesses as wide-ranging as Haribo through to restaurants including McDonald’s and Nando’s. According to the BDSI, first quarter confectionery exports to the UK are down 11%, with many freight forwarding businesses now reportedly no longer interested in handling British orders due to the quagmire of additional regulatory checks required.

Quite apart from the trading complexities now thrown up by Northern Ireland now effectively having a border down the Irish sea in terms of additional checks now being required for many goods (despite the government’s protestations that this is not the case), the damage being done to small and medium-sized enterprises both in the UK and mainland Europe as a direct consequence of us being on divergent paths of standards and certification and administrative equivalence has very tangible real-world consequences.

As Confectionery Production has reported in recent months, export trade figures from the UK to Europe for the confectionery sector have certainly been affected, and it’s clear that the same is very much true in reverse – so it begs the very obvious question – is it all really worth it? From having spoken to a number of businesses across Europe, I can genuinely think of few who have offered an optimistic portrayal of how events have played out in the past three years surrounding the saga of Brexit.

Perhaps most tellingly, little over half a year since they first put forward the agreement with the EU, British ministers are now calling for it to be re-negotiated given the level of business disruption across multiple sectors, which has worsened by the covid pandemic that has seen a major impact on logistics including a drastic shortage of HGV delivery drivers.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the EU appears reluctant to entertain the notion that the ‘oven ready deal’ that the UK served up, seems to many observers at least, one which has brought far many more questions rather than solutions about our future trading with our nearest neighbours – who still account for 40% of overall trade. Let us hope some kind of sense prevails in the coming months ahead and that some common ground can somehow be discovered.

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