European automobile manufacturers have called on the EU to take a softer stance regarding the UK’s future market access, and they warned that the bloc’s harsh position could have long-term effects on the automobile industry. In June, more than 50 European and British food and drink trade associations wrote to Brussels to request for more flexibility, underlying the fact that a tariff-free trade agreement needed to be coupled with the assurance that businesses will be able to benefit from it.

Why does the manufacturing sector worry?

For UK and EU importers and exporters, it is important to maintain a frictionless access to the single market. Manufacturing businesses are aware of the damaging effects of Brexit and the ensuing disruptions to their sector. Brexit-related uncertainty has made it very difficult for most sectors to prepare for a post-Brexit business environment and reduced the possibility of securing investment.

UK manufacturing is integrated into the EU single market, as almost half of all UK goods imports and exports are with the EU. Many UK manufacturers are dependent on frictionless trade with the EU so their supply chains are not interrupted. With the possibility of a no deal Brexit, manufacturing sectors are concerned about a potential lack of regulatory alignment with the EU as no business wants to lose the privilege of free trade.  According to independent research from the UK in a Changing Europe initiative, some sectors, such as automotive, could be severely affected if they have to pay tariffs to export cars to the EU in the absence of any agreement with the EU. As they warned, “In almost all cases, Brexit will create additional financial or other cost burdens for companies: tariffs, customs declarations, certification costs, audits to ensure rules of origin compliance, loss of collaboration opportunities in R&D, border delays, EU customers switching to other suppliers, visa costs for EU workers, and so on.”

Letter from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA)

In a letter from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) last week, the association which represents  some of the biggest car manufacturers in the world, including BMW, Toyota and Fiat, warned Brussels that some aspects of the bloc's current stance are "not in the long-term interests of the EU automotive industry.” The ACEA urged the EU to "reconsider its position" on tariff-free trade. In its letter, sent last Thursday, 15th October, the ACEA requested from the EU to reduce the percentage of car components manufactured in Europe or Britain so that the businesses can benefit from any EU-UK trade deal. The car manufacturers are urging that the new rules be introduced slowly so that the automobile industry has the time to prepare and adjust for the new rules and environment. For EU manufacturers, an agreement that provides tariff-free, quota-free trade on all goods is crucial.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has told businesses that “short-term adaptation costs” were necessary to protect “long-term economic interests.”

Nicolas Peter, BMW’s finance director, has said in a press conference last week: "The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) has estimated that it could cost car manufacturers and suppliers from 10 to 11 billion euros, so we need tariff-free trade. And even then, it must be seamless. We have a just-in-time production system, so customs administrative processing must be efficient."

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