In the next few weeks Inverness Chamber of Commerce will lead the first of a series of delegations to support Scottish companies increase their international trade activity abroad.
The first, in Quebec in March, will explore opportunities for firms looking to expand in Canadian markets. Between then and May, we have also arranged trips to Munich and Ontario to help trade partnerships in Canada and Germany in sectors including life sciences, ICT, tourism, energy, food & drink and aerospace.
These business meetings, organised as part of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce trade missions to develop overseas activities, have become increasingly important given the uncertainty over the UK’s future trading with the EU.
While things now seem to be moving on the Brexit front, the lengthy period of turmoil and uncertainty it has left in its wake has stacked up problems for many, including the retaining and recruiting staff, lack of investment and an inability to plan ahead.
The latest economic forecast from the British Chambers of Commerce, issued just before the General Election, predicted that business investment is forecast to contract by one per cent in 2019 and by a further 0.7 per cent in 2020, with Brexit cited as one of the main factors weighing on investment decisions, while continued doubt over the UK’s future relationship with the EU is likely to stifle export sales.
The Election result means that the deal to leave Europe will come into force from 31 January. But, of course, things do not change for the business community from 1 February. This is not the beginning of the end of the upheaval, but the start of a new period of uncertainty which needs swift but conciliatory action by the new government to minimise.
A transition period is due to run until 31 December 2020, during which time the UK and EU will negotiate their future relationship.
Unless there is an unlikely extension to the transition period, the UK will move to trading on World Trade Organisation terms or, if negotiations progress more rapidly than before, a new free trade agreement will come into force with the EU.
However you voted in the referendum, and whatever your thoughts are now on Brexit, it seems the political wrangling is over and it is finally becoming a reality.
For the sake of the economy, and everyone’s sanity, we need to move away from election slogans and soundbites. We need the UK Government to make this transition as smooth as possible, to avoid a no deal Brexit and progress as quickly as possible to new working partnerships within the EU and beyond to help remove the barriers to investment and growth.
Inverness Chamber of Commerce has been preparing for Brexit for some time to ensure individuals and companies of all sizes have the knowledge, training and support they need. Brexit raises the prospect of increasing the bureaucracy and costs involved of trading abroad which can be prohibitive to many small and medium sized companies in the Highlands without proper advice.
Our international team is highly regarded nationally and internationally for its ability to support and advise businesses in this complex environment. This includes a huge range of services relating to imports and exports, duty and VAT rates, documentation and certification and how these will change once the UK leaves the EU.
We are also the first Scottish chamber to introduce the cloud-based EdgeCTP software system to help SMEs streamline operations and comply with future trade rules and tariffs.
The trade missions that get under way next month are part of our programme of ‘getting on with business’ amid the turmoil and we need politicians to now swap the posturing for practical solutions.