The British Retail Consortium has called on the Government to put consumers first when they negotiate the terms of the UK’s exit strategy from the EU.
The BRC has spelt out its concerns in a letter to Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, suggesting that government strategy must concentrate on ways to lower import costs.
BRC chairman Richard Baker emphasised the importance of achieving trading arrangements with the rest of the world that do not put household budgets at risk.
“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,” he said, launching the BRC’s Brexit campaign.
“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,” he added.
The BRC has asked that the Government focus on keeping shop prices low after the UK leaves the EU. It acknowledged that retailers have been successful in protecting consumers from the effects of rising costs and the devaluation of the pound, but added that years of deflation have left them with little margin to absorb the added burden of import tariffs.
If the UK fell back on World Trade Organisation guidelines, such tariffs, the BRC warned, could be as high as 27% on imported meat products and 11 to 16% on clothing, compared with the current 0% on all EU imports. Free trade agreement, it added, could take typically five to six years to negotiate.
It also admitted that failure to strike a good Brexit deal by 2019 would have a “disproportionately severe impact” on retailers and their customers.
The BRC said it would also be campaigning to end the uncertainty facing EU workers now residing in the UK – and there are between 100,000 and 200,000 of them.
And with its focus firmly on encouraging growth in the UK economy, the BRC has also called on the Government only to introduce domestic legislation and regulations that would promote growth during what it says will be a challenging time for retailers.