The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has called on government negotiators to put consumers first in forthcoming Brexit talks.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, the BRC said that the government’s strategy must focus on finding opportunities for lowering import costs, as well as avoiding any increase in tariffs.
BRC chairman Richard Baker spelled out the importance of achieving trading arrangements with the rest of the world that do not put household budgets at risk.
Launching the BRC’s Brexit campaign, he said: “We will be supporting the government through this complex and difficult process, helping them analyse how increased cost pressures on retailers could mean higher shop prices – and identifying any opportunities for new trade deals that could benefit individuals and families.
“The retail industry is the UK’s biggest importer, and has huge experience of importing from every corner of the world. We will be engaged in a constructive dialogue with government that will bring our experience to bear on the Brexit talks to the benefit of everyone in the UK.”
The BRC added that while UK retailers have been very successful in insulating consumers from the cost of rising business rates and labour, ‘the recent devaluation of the pound in relation to our most important trading currencies is compounding economic headwinds, while years of deflation have left little margin to absorb added cost from import tariffs and administrative burdens.
‘Moreover, failure to strike a good Brexit deal by 2019 would have a disproportionately severe impact on retailers and their customers, because if the UK fell back on to World Trade Organisation rules, the new tariff rates that the UK would apply to imports from the EU would be highest for consumer staples like food and clothing.’
The BRC will also be campaigning with other industry groups for an early end to the uncertainty facing EU workers now residing in the UK. The UK retail industry employs between 100,000 and 200,000 EU nationals, who, it said, ‘make a huge contribution in every type of role, from the boardroom to distribution centres and customer service. They deserve the reassurance that they will still be welcome here, whatever Brexit may bring.’
In addition, the BRC will call on the government to introduce only such domestic legislation and regulations on the retail industry that will promote growth ‘during what will be a challenging time for retailers and the three million people they employ’.
The BRC concluded: ‘While retailers are happy to play their part in working for a constructive outcome to the Brexit talks, they will also be dealing with the impacts of a challenging economic outlook, intensifying competition and rapid structural change – making it considerably more difficult to protect consumers from the impacts of a greater regulatory burden.’