The first quarter was defined by two big ‘B’s - Brexit and the B7. Starting with the UK’s departure from the EU, the CBI has supported business by sharing insight and information to help firms understand how to trade, travel and conduct business. We have also continued to engage with both sides of the Channel this year to ensure the business voice is heard on key issues.
We have been able to engage with the UK government on its Global Britain agenda through the B7. As hosts, the CBI led global business to agree priorities for the recovery with a focus on international trade, net zero, vaccines and the digital economy.
Further to this, we have also been able to showcase business’ role in shaping a sustainable and inclusive global recovery, and there is no doubt that business is now seen as a key partner for recovery on the international stage.
Following the B7, our partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and across government on exports has gone from strength to strength, thanks to invaluable member insight.
The CBI’s International Trade and Investment Council and International Trade Advisory Group business has helped shaped CBI policy recommendations and the Seize the Moment Globalised Economy theme. The latter of which has already had an impact with the Trade in Services Council, launched as part of the refreshed Export Strategy, bringing a greater focus to our economic prioritisation.
This year we have made strides to embed business in the UK’s international strategy and across negotiations, and together we have laid solid foundations for the year ahead.
Take a look at how we have shaped, led and embraced change through 2021:
11 January – Setting up the Northern Ireland Brexit taskforce
Through the Brexit taskforce meetings and Northern Ireland lobbying, the CBI called for a NI specific taskforce to provide NI businesses with a direct voice on transition issues such as the VAT margin scheme and groupage.
1 February - Securing market access at state level in the US
UK companies had limited access to trade in individual US states due to regulatory barriers governed at state level.
Fuelled by member feedback, the CBI’s Roaring Trade report, called for a holistic approach to US trade and a comprehensive strategy on state-level engagement to benefit services firms.
Following these calls and regular engagement by the CBI, the government has started signing agreements with individual US states, making it easier for firms to gain access to individual markets in the US as UK qualifications will be recognised as legitimate.
11 March – Extending grace periods for EU imports to Great Britain
At the beginning of the year, the government introduced a new staged approach to imports through the Border Operating Model (BOM).
While there were still considerable immediate changes that importers needed to adjust to, the BOM introduced some of the most significant changes in stages.
With firms tackling the second lockdown’s impact at the same time, it became clear that it would be difficult for them to prepare for the first stage of the new approach to imports due in April 2021.
The CBI privately called for action ahead of the grace periods ending, which led to the government adding a six-month extension to each stage of the BOM.
22 April - Leading on amendments to National Security & Investment Bill
CBI members were facing the creation of a rigid investment screening regime.
As a result of private engagement by the CBI, the government introduced a series of amendments at report stage to the Bill, reflecting two of the CBI's asks.
The amendments remove a proposed threshold over which investment or voting rights would trigger a review and provide clarity on the processing time of claims through a new reporting mechanism written into the Bill.
These changes will make the Bill more business-friendly and focused on the implementation of the new regime.
30 April – Providing clearer guidance for business on country-by-country travel
A year into the pandemic, business travel is still facing restrictions.
The nuances of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement mean the requirements for business travel vary depending on the member state, therefore businesses needed a ‘country-by-country’ understanding of what is and isn’t permitted.
When borders reopen, complying with the new rules will be extremely challenging and resource-intensive for many businesses.
From March, the CBI called for country-by-country guidance to business travel, and the government began to publish this guidance on its website from 30 April.
This has provided much needed clarity to businesses– particularly SMEs without large HR departments.
11 May – Gaining commitment from WTO to engage with business
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has historically been poor at incorporating business engagement, with just a single event each year and no formal structures.
As Chair of the B7, the CBI recommended this be addressed with more structured business engagement on an ongoing basis. The WTO Director General has since responded to the recommendations with a commitment to exploring a new business advisory council.
This engagement will enable clearer lines of input into the WTO, allowing initiatives to be based on business priorities and ultimately improving the international trading system for companies.
17 June - Changes to UK-Switzerland trade deal secured
With the UK and Switzerland interpreting the rollover trade deal differently, firms sending goods between the two countries were potentially missing out on tariff reductions.
Joining forces with our sister federation, EconomieSuisse, the CBI urged for a quick resolution through a joint private letter to Ministers on both sides. This resulted in negotiations accelerating to smooth out the complications affecting businesses’ ability to trade tariff free.
The intervention was crucial in providing the momentum for both governments to act swiftly.
28 June - Avoiding significant disruption to the free flow of data between the UK and the EU
Firms were facing significant disruption from 31 June as they would no longer be able to transfer data between the UK and the EU.
The CBI has argued for a data adequacy agreement in its November 2020 report, Smoothing the Cliff Edge, and spoke with stakeholders on both sides about the need of free flow data. Following our calls, the European Council approved UK/EU Data Adequacy before the end of the grace period. The agreement will support the free flow of data between the UK and the EU - a critical move for businesses across the economy - playing an important role in the everyday trade of goods and services, and the development of innovative technologies such as AI.
13 October – Easing business into the new trading relationship between the UK-EU
Firms have faced pressures following the UK’s departure from the EU – from changes to product marking to supply chain issues.
Northern Ireland (NI) businesses have also faced complexity and the cost of the NI protocol.
Through continued engagement with both UK and EU governments, reports and public and private interventions, the CBI has secured multiple wins for business including ensuring the general sales list for medicines moved to NI through GB were included in EU proposals and extending the UKCA product marking grading period and grace periods for food checks on EU imports to GB.
The EU Commission has also opened discussions on key areas such as medicines, customs and SPS in relation to the NI protocol – an important step towards reducing the compliance burden for businesses trading in and through NI.
15 November – Shaping the future of trade in services
Services account for 80% of the economy, but are underrepresented in trade policy.
In our Seize the Moment report the CBI called for the introduction of an industry-led body to champion cross-services trade priorities given their importance to the UK economy. The body will incorporate all services industries, including those wrapped around goods exports, and prioritise regional growth.
The government has since endorsed this initiative and the Trade in Services Council has launched as part of the refreshed Export Strategy, with members directly shaping its remit. This new council will help grasp the opportunities ahead and win more business in critical areas.