Two of the UK’s biggest business organisations have called on the government to begin better engagement with industry, stressing the importance of consistency in any Brexit trade deal.

The British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) is demanding a “formal, permanent” dialogue be set up between Number 10 and trade associations to ensure negotiations draw on expertise of the private and third sector. It calls for the government to adopt six practices in this vein to support its bid to “roll over” existing free trade agreements.

Meanwhile a major report published by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) today setting out the regulatory needs of 23 industries “from architects to zoos”. It notes that 18 of those sectors would prefer convergence or alignment for the majority of regulation.

Brexit does present opportunities for rule changes in sectors such as agriculture, shipping and tourism, but the CBI argues these opportunities are “vastly outweighed by the costs of deviating from rules necessary to ensure smooth access to the EU, the UK’s largest trading partner”.

The CBI has put forward three principles to guide both sides: that convergence must be agreed “where rules are fundamental to the trade or transport of goods”; that negotiators should set a new international precedent in the trade of services and digital products; and that alignment must be supported with mechanisms that benefit both sides.

CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “The experience of companies across the country will be essential in the months ahead. A major acceleration in the partnership between business and the UK government is needed to make a success of Brexit and to ensure this experience is heard.

“It’s vitally important that negotiators understand the complexity of rules and the effects that even the smallest of changes can have. Deviation from rules in one sector will have a knock-on effect on businesses in others, and divergence from rules in one part of a production process will have consequences for market access throughout entire supply chains.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of the decisions that will be taken over the next six months. Put simply, for the majority of businesses, diverging from EU rules and regulations will make them less globally competitive, and so should only be done where the evidence is clear that the benefits outweigh the costs.”

BCC director general Adam Marshall said setting up formal structures for engagement was “imperative, as the government needs business expertise, insight and support both to ‘roll over’ existing EU free trade agreements, which must happen for UK businesses to maintain current levels of market access, and as we enter into discussions with new markets around the world in future”.

He added: “Without a permanent and deep dialogue between business and government on the practical details of trade across borders, UK negotiators may lack crucial insights – forcing them to muddle through rather than deliver the best possible deals for the UK’s exporting and importing interests.”



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