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Free trade tops list for footwear industry post-Brexit

Footwear brands, manufacturers and retailers have said maintaining a free trade agreement with the EU and global markets is a priority during Brexit negotiations.

The British Footwear Association (BFA), which represents the UK’s £7.85bn footwear industry, has compiled a white paper on its position, priorities and recommendations for leaving the European Union.

Free trade within the EU ranked high on the list for many businesses, according to John Saunders, chief executive of the BFA.

“As our biggest trading partner and a market of 500 million, on the whole, wealthy consumers, it is vital the UK is not disadvantaged when reaching a new deal with the EU. The UK must look to work with the EU and to avoid the imposition of barriers which may limit EU/UK trade.”

Saunders added: “That said no one should underestimate the size of the challenge ahead in reaching a completely new arrangement with all 27 EU members with their widely differing economic and political objectives.”

William Church, joint managing director of Northamptonshire brand and seven-store retailer Joseph Cheaney & Sons, said tariff-free trade was essential for “export dependent” UK manufacturers.

“We are buying raw materials from France, Italy and Germany without tariffs and we’re selling the end product back to them tariff free so the ability to move goods within the trading zone is very important. We need to be well positioned to negotiate the best deals we can to make sure the exchanging of goods remains as free as possible.”

He added: “At Cheaney, like other manufacturers, we are exposed to the outcome and impact of the negotiations so as an industry we have to make sure we are punching our weight and getting our views heard.”

Gareth Austin-Jones, commercial director of women’s footwear brand Cocorose London said above all, brands need clarity on tariffs and pricing at least six months ahead of any changes taking place.

“Of course we want free trade in the EU, better trade deals with global import and export markets, and the free movement of people, but we really need clarity on what is going to happen as soon as possible. We’re selling a minimum of six months ahead so we need to be able to tell our European agents and customers how much product will actually cost ahead of the season, otherwise they will walk away.”

Tony Linford, managing director of footwear brand house The Florida Group, agreed that the uncertainty over trade deals was his biggest concern.

“I don’t see how it is going to work. If we get a free trade deal with China, will we be able to export that product into the EU duty-free? I don’t think so! Theresa May’s letter to the EU read like a letter to Father Christmas so I’m concerned about how it’s all going to play out. At the moment it’s easy for us to buy and sell into our biggest trade market - Europe - so I’m worried about how that will be effected.”

Saunders also made the point that global trade deals are an imperative for the industry as many UK firms operate outside Europe and grants to exhibit at international trade shows play a vital part of that expansion.

“Looking for the government to support our members in new non-EU export markets will be vital to the future success of UK businesses. If the UK is to get the most out of our decision to leave the EU, our companies must be supported and encouraged financially to seek out and sell in new export markets.”

He added: “It is important that funding is provided at a similar level to our international competitors. In 2016-17 the UK budget to support exporters was £9m, the equivalent German scheme provided £36.7m.”

  • The JCCC, MacIntyre Hudson and sponsors Alliance helped the BFA compile its white paper

The BFA’s three key objectives in Brexit negotiations:

1. The UK must develop a network of free trade agreements to ensure that if access to the EU customs union cannot be maintained, the impact can be mitigated.

2. The UK should look to fast track negotiations on free trade agreements with key strategic and economic partners.

3. The government must ensure that its customs experts are at all negotiations with the EU.


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