In the year since our last survey, UK trade policy has developed significantly. The Department for International Trade has been replaced by the Department for Business and Trade. New trade agreements have entered into force with Australia and New Zealand and the UK has concluded its negotiations to accede to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Negotiations on enhanced trade agreements are underway with Canada, Mexico and Switzerland and on new FTAs with India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The UK and US governments agreed a roadmap for future trade relations under the Atlantic Declaration and further agreements have been forged with individual US states. The Windsor Framework is helping to resolve issues over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Rules of origin on trade in electric vehicles with the EU have been extended and the UK has re-joined the EU’s Horizon and Copernicus schemes.
It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that our Attitudes to Trade Survey 2024 finds that business sentiment towards UK trade policy is generally positive and in many areas has improved notably from our last survey in early 2023.
1. Businesses are still reporting lost trade with the EU as a result of Brexit, but trade relations with Europe are steadily improving.
- Most survey respondents (59%) reported that their business had lost trade with the EU as a result of Brexit, but responses to this question were noticeably less negative than last year (74%).
- Two thirds of respondents have either not seen their aggregate trade affected by Brexit or have made net gains elsewhere that compensate for Brexit losses. Small businesses were less likely to experience compensating gains.
- The Windsor Framework proved broadly advantageous to respondents, with 43% of businesses trading within or with Northern Ireland stating it had already been beneficial to them after approximately two months in operation. 18% of these respondents reported that the Windsor Framework has been damaging to their business.
- Businesses are positive about the development of the UK-EU trade relationship, with over half of respondents (54%) expecting the relationship to improve over the next five years, compared to 23% who expect it to worsen.
- Almost half of respondents (46%) expect the 2025 TCA review to result in a closer relationship with the EU. A quarter of respondents (25%) expect the review to result in a more distant relationship.
2. Businesses are broadly positive about the UK’s trade agreement programme
- A majority (54%) of respondents view the government’s FTA programme as beneficial to their business – an increase of 12% on last year’s survey.
- Businesses are positive about the major new FTA opportunities, such as with India, the GCC and CPTPP, and consider them more favourably than at the time of our last survey.
- Around half of survey respondents believe that the new FTAs in force with Australia and New Zealand could be beneficial to their businesses.
- Almost three quarters of survey respondents were aware of the MoU programme with US states, with 61% stating they could prove beneficial for their business.
- Over half of respondents (54%) are experiencing or anticipate experiencing greater competition from cheaper imports as a result of the UK’s FTA programme.
- Two thirds of businesses represented in the survey ensure they are always claiming the correct rate of duty available under FTAs, with a third of respondents stating that their business does not always ensure they are paying the correct amount and may therefore be overpaying. It is possible that some businesses could be suffering from resource or knowledge scarcity in the mitigation or recovery of duties, or in complying with rules of origin.
3. Businesses believe that trade policy is delivering in most areas
- Businesses were mostly optimistic about the UK’s FTA programme contributing to economic growth, with over half (62%) of respondents expecting FTAs to have a positive impact over the next decade, compared to only 14% expecting a negative impact. Respondents were noticeably more positive this year compared to when we last asked the same question.
- A large number of businesses (62%) think that the government is reflecting their priorities in FTA negotiations; however, the movement and recruitment of staff is the area where respondents felt the government’s priorities were most different to their own.
- Businesses represented in the survey are much more positive about how well the government is communicating the benefits of FTAs compared to when we last asked this question. Over half (51%) of respondents stated that government communications have been good compared to just 37% last time.
- A strong ongoing dialogue is taking place between businesses and government over FTA negotiations, on accessing government support and in getting advice on exporting; however small businesses are least likely to engage with government.