Voice of Welsh SMEs challenges political parties to outline post-Brexit export growth plans

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Liz Maher, president of the South and Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce. (C) Huw John, Cardiff.

Following the publication this week of Wales’ 2016 export figures, the South & Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce have challenged political parties standing in the General Election to set out how they intend to help Welsh businesses continue to increase exports following Brexit.

According to government figures, Welsh businesses exported £12.3 billion of goods during 2016, an increase of £725 million compared to the previous year. The majority of this growth came from exports to countries in the European Union, with 66.9 per cent of all Welsh exports going to the EU compared to 49.1 per cent for the UK as a whole.

Liz Maher, president of the South & Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce, said: “With such a high proportion of Welsh exports going to the EU, we have concerns that a change in the trading relationship with European countries will have a greater impact on Wales than other parts of the UK, particularly in the short term.

“Welsh businesses will be working hard to adapt to life after Brexit, but for them to reach their full potential they need the support of government.”

The South & Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce are calling on those standing in June’s General Election to commit to:

Keeping tariffs with the EU to a minimum and alleviating non-tariff barriers both with the EU and the rest of the world,
Revitalise and expand the trade mission, trade fairs and trade support programmes available to Welsh businesses, and
Ensuring there is no sudden disruption to our trading relations with the EU after 2019.

Ms Maher continued: “These steps will all play a role in helping exporters increase how much they sell abroad and help other businesses to start exporting, and I hope to see each party standing candidates in Wales include these policies in their manifestos.

“Businesses realise it is likely that tariffs with the EU will be introduced, but there is a strong desire to see them kept to a minimum. Meanwhile, non-tariff barriers such as intellectual property, product standards and compliance, frequently carry a greater cost to businesses than tariffs. The government must work with businesses to identify the most obstructive barriers, and collaborate with other countries to alleviate them.

“Current trade mission programmes are too small and slow, and often focus too much on ministerial deal-signing rather than supporting businesses on the ground. Businesses of all sizes and from all sectors say an expanded trade mission and trade fairs programme, with more generous government support, would boost exporter confidence, build links with key trade partners and underpin deals.

“In the UK’s negotiations with the EU, the ideal outcome for businesses would be for the EU exit negotiations and our future trade arrangements with the EU to be concluded simultaneously, within the two-year timetable. Should this prove impossible, we should seek an extension to the negotiating period, to enable completion of both agreements concurrently. A transitional arrangement is only desirable if the simultaneous completion of both our EU exit negotiations and our future EU trade agreement proves impossible.”