By Yasmine Lingemann

Belgians are big savers. According to recent figures released by the National Bank of Belgium (BNB), Belgians have reached a record high in average household savings, with figures reaching 290 billion euros in aggregate regulated savings accounts. On average, the household savings ratio in Belgium is 12.6%, which by comparison is just over double that of the UK, where households save 6.2% of their disposable income. Belgians have traditionally saved a lot, yet even in an era of zero or negative interest rates on savings, the lack of spending is beginning to become problematic and even a hinderance to the national economy.

Globally, the Coronavirus pandemic has hurt economies everywhere. With firms in the UK and Europe also having to simultaneously adapt and create contingency plans to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition, businesses face the situation where they need to use alternative methods to attract clients and re-establish confidence in their company. In Belgium, that means trying to encourage people to spend more and save less at the same time as rising unemployment, weakening job security, and people generally tightening their belts and restricting spending to the bare necessities.

Despite this, firms must not lose hope: Now is the time to seek new opportunities. Businesses are responding, many are offering their goods and services in a different way. In Belgium, where consumers have traditionally been less open to online commerce, increased time at home in front of a screen enables households to be more susceptible to e-commerce and advertising. Businesses must use this time to improve communication and dialogue with their clients to reestablish trust and retain brand loyalty. Getting active online and keeping your customer base up to date on changes will help businesses in the long run and hasten the adoption of a more digitalised economy.

Belgium government support has not been as forthcoming as in the UK. However there are a variety of loans and tax deferral schemes that have been put in place to weaken the damage felt by Belgian firms.

Click here for Belgium’s government website to see how your business can benefit from the support available: https://www.belgium.be/en

Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period.

See our website here for more details on how we can help you: https://www.britishchamber.be/

The practical implications of Brexit on everyday UK-EU trade is becoming clearer week by week. This week, Amazon announced changes affecting Amazon sellers, customs briefings and enquiries ramped up, and the impact on product availability and businesses started to become evident. The detail is very welcome, and helps businesses prepare further. For some, the impact will be more difficult to manage and will effect consumer choice, price and availability.

The UK government’s publication of its border operating model provided traders and logistics operators with more detailed information on the requirements for UK exports and imports. While much of the overall approach was predictable, the details of the arrangements make clear the challenges that traders will have to adapt to, and the costs likely to be incurred.

This week, retail giant Amazon announced the end of Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) for UK sellers delivering to customers in the single market (and vice-versa). Sellers will now have to divide their inventory between UK and EU-Based Fulfilment Centres to avoid losing sales in either market.

This will raise the cost of reaching customers through increased storage and transaction costs of shipping their goods to warehouses in both markets. With Amazon putting in transitional measures before 1st January 2021, sellers Christmas trade may be affected too.

As so often, it’s the detail that counts. The UK’s plan to introduce postponed VAT accounting will be a boon to the cashflow of UK importers. But some businesses are beginning to see additional unwelcome challenges. For example, fresh fruit and vegetables delivered by air from Africa to the UK and its Benelux neighbours are distributed across the region. Since these goods movements will now need phytosanitary checks at the entry point, the opening hours of phyto offices at ports and airports now become a critical factor in avoiding lengthy delays.

With the time for preparation now short, the UK government is stepping up its communications to businesses with webinars for Belgian and Irish firms this week and more to come.

With its network of expert members and the backup of its UK chambers, Britcham is there to help you. If you have questions, contact us at BusinessContinuity@britishchamber.eu

Glenn Vaughan – Senior Adviser

UK Govt – Border Operating Model: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/899991/200713_BPDG_-_Border_Operating_Model_FINAL_1320_edit.pdf

The UK Government has published its long awaited border operating model. It makes clear how the border with the EU will work – at least in most cases. But some important questions remain, and the cost to business, in customs administration work alone, will be substantial. The government has responded to some key demands from British Chambers of Commerce for measures to improve cash flow. But if there’s not a deal, the cost will be higher again – and key questions remain unanswered.

While businesses will welcome more detail on processes for trading goods overseas, some questions still remain unanswered, including on trade across the Northern Ireland border and the operation of the Goods Vehicle Management System. We will continue to look at the detail and how it affects businesses over the coming weeks.

The Border Operating Model provides clarity and certainty for the border industry and businesses, including technical detail on how the border with the EU will work after the transition period and the actions that traders, hauliers, ports and carriers need to take. It covers all of the processes and systems, across all government departments, that will be used at the border. It provides clarity on the end to end journey for moving goods across the border – with information about controlled goods and new government systems that will support trade.

To help businesses prepare for these changes and continue to trade, guides on how to import and export goods are available in the form of a ‘journey’ (see below). That’s important since so many UK based companies currently trade only with the EU. They need to clearly see every step they need to take to ensure that their goods are transported successfully.

This will cost businesses money. With full border controls in place at all ports from January 1st next year, regardless of any deal that is agreed with the EU, an estimated 200 million more customs declarations will need to be made by traders annually. At a cost of £20 to £45 per declaration the cost to business could be in the region of £4bn to £9bn.

The UK government has listened to the British Chamber network and reintroduced Postponed VAT Accounting, as well as allowing the deferment of duty and VAT on EU imports for at least 6 months from January 2020.   And many businesses will appreciate the introduction of bond-free duty deferment accounts, which will provide much needed help to cashflow for businesses and reduce import costs.

Along with the European Commission’s Communication last week on preparing for the end of the transition period, it’s clear firms that import and export across the UK-EU border should take action now including the appointment of customs intermediaries and addressing approvals and certifications.

With its network of expert members and the backup of its UK chambers, Britcham is there to help you. If you have questions, contact us at BusinessContinuity@britishchamber.eu

Glenn Vaughan – Senior Adviser

Hyperlinks also below.

UK Govt – Border Operating Model: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/899991/200713_BPDG_-_Border_Operating_Model_FINAL_1320_edit.pdf

How to import and export goods between Great Britain and the EU from 1 January 2021: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-import-and-export-goods-between-great-britain-and-the-eu-from-1-january-2021

European Commission – Getting ready for the end of the transition period: https://ec.europa.eu/info/european-union-and-united-kingdom-forging-new-partnership/future-partnership/getting-ready-end-transition-period_en

Last week’s virtual summit of EU leaders discussed the proposal for a revised long term budget and EU Recovery Plan – put together by the Commission in double quick time. Much of the discussion between member states is inevitably informed by a calculation of who gets what and who pays, so it will not be easy or very quick. But the effectiveness of the EU response will really depend on how the money is spent and avoiding the temptation to create new barriers to business.

At the end of May 2020, the European Commission presented its proposal for a comprehensive reconstruction plan. 750 billion will be mobilised for the “Next Generation EU” action. In addition, the long-term EU budget 2021-2027 will be increased to a total of EUR 1.85 trillion.

The Commission says the plans will deliver resources at the scale and speed needed and focused on green and digital as engines of growth as well as increased resilience for Europe’s ‘open strategic autonomy’ model. It also emphasises the importance of avoiding fragmentation of the single market. Good to hear.

The package focuses mainly on cohesion and recovery along with a boost to Horizon Europe and more money for the planned Just Transition Fund for decarbonisation, and a new health program.

The biggest lump of cash – a new Recovery and Resilience Facility of €560 billion – will offer financial support for investments and reforms with a grant facility of up to €310 billion, and will be able to make up to €250 billion available in loans.

The scale and effectiveness of spending will be central, but it also needs broader global coordination. As pointed out by JBCE (Japan Business Council in Europe) recently, this is not just about the EU alone. So the EU’s response needs to be timely, but also coordinated wherever possible through multilateral and bilateral action. More important for the medium term, the EU’s openness to trade, ideas, innovation and people needs to be part of the answer.

The recovery plan will be based on a model of “open strategic autonomy” and there has been much made of the need to strengthen and diversify supply chains. While that’s undoubtedly true, there’s always a risk that the need to protect its people and companies can be used to push a protectionist agenda. 

That’s why it will remain important for business to make the case, loudly and persistently that recovery will be built on international cooperation and free and fair trade, as well as a vibrant single market and that Europe remains #Open4business

Glenn Vaughan – Senior Adviser

If you have any income that you receive in the UK and are unclear how to declare this in your Belgian income tax declaration, here’s some advice from Eric Laurent. If you need more, sign up for our webinar on Wednesday 24 June, especially as the deadline for personal tax declarations is 30 June!

Eric is a Partner at ERYV – a family business working in accountancy and tax that have been operating in the Belgian market for over 30 years! Eric is a chartered accountant & tax adviser who specialises in cross-border income.

When you are working, or residing, in Belgium you have to file a Belgian tax return. The principle in international taxation is that you have to declare your worldwide income in the country you are residing in. So if you are an expat, it is likely that you have some kind of foreign income; perhaps from interest earned from a savings account or rental income.

You have to report this information in your tax return, but don’t worry you shouldn’t be charged twice! Some tax treaties in place prevent you from being charged twice but this depends on the type of income for example, or on the specific articles from the bilateral tax treaty between Belgium and the source country.

In Belgium, for individuals, you can file a resident tax return or a non-resident tax return. For a resident tax return in Belgium you must declare your worldwide income. This applies even if you are working outside of Belgium. Even if you have had your contract terminated, or you have changed jobs or maybe you have retired, you are still a Belgian resident and have to go through the same process.

For non-resident there are several sub-categories: there are those who are in Belgium under the special regime of taxation for foreign executives, a very special category; there are also those who don’t live in Belgium but do generate some income there.

In addition, there are some people who have a specific status and have to find their way into the resident or non-resident category. These are the people that either work for the Commission or another EU institution or someone working for an international or government organisation like NATO or for a foreign embassy for example.

This touches upon a few issues but greater explanation will be given during the webinar on Wednesday 24 June. The following subjects will be covered during the webinar:

  • Concept of Belgian tax residency
  • Consequence: taxation (declaration) of worldwide income
  • Tax treaty: which state has the right to tax
  • Tax treaty: how to avoid double taxation
  • How declaring UK real estate income in Belgium
  • How declaring foreign professional income in Belgium
  • How declaring foreign financial income in Belgium
  • Other items linked to foreign assets:  bank accounts, life insurance, legal structures

Need to know more? Register here

I wouldn’t say I’m an old hand at AGM’s but I’ve sat through quite a few and organised some too.  But this year was another new experience, and somewhat of a challenge – the Chamber’s first digital AGM. 

Over the last few months’ we’ve all discovered the joys of Zoom, particularly the ease of moving from one meeting to another and how good it is to be able to meet with people whatever their location.  AGM’s, however, are a very particular kind of meeting and the governance requirements impose some challenges.  They are a hybrid between a presentation and a meeting and need to allow maximum participation from all who attend.  The Chamber team did some extensive research and trialling of other platforms.  There are some fabulous webinar platforms available but the need for flexible participation pulled us back to Zoom.

So, to the Chambers 110th AGM.  We had near 100% attendance from those registered (another benefit of remote meetings) and a very interactive meeting.  It’s my observation that remote meeting platforms allow participants to contribute more, it is easier to speak and less intimidating for those who might be intimidated.  On a meeting platform there is no separation in any way between speakers and ‘audience’ and this creates a different dynamic. 

While AGM’s legally are focussed on reviewing the previous year, the current circumstances necessitate more focus on the now and the future.  Our President, Tom Parker reiterated how central the Chamber is for businesses who are active in the UK-Belgian space and after his review of the year the ‘floor’ was taken by our new CEO Dan Dalton.  Dan brings his wealth of experience as an MEP to the Chamber at exactly the right time – his stature and connections will enhance the Chamber, attract more members and give top level insight into the pivotal relationship as the UK negotiates its future trade relationship with the EU. 

We had presentations from our key committees: the EU Committee, the Future Relations Committee and the Business, Trade and Investment Committee.  There are exciting times ahead for the Chamber in all these areas and there is a key message – be involved, this is your Chamber, we represent your interests and want to understand more how we can work effectively to support your business. 

So, now the less exciting stuff – writing minutes and following up with the our new Council members.  Actually, just kidding, I love this stuff and good governance is the bedrock of effective and appropriate decision making.  It’s a privilege to be part of this and to support the Chamber and our members in these challenging times.  I hope that next year we can see each other in person and look back on a very particular time. 

Melanie Barker – Membership and Operations Manager

Our pre-COVID-19 photoshoot

The impact of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures have affected each of us in different ways. It’s caused health issues that have changed the lives of many, whilst others have been left unscathed. It’s also freed the time of thousands of people who’ve been placed under the furlough scheme, whilst the days of others have become substantially busier for a number of different reasons.  
However we’ve all had to learn what it’s like to stay at home, and for most of us, to work from home as well.

March 13th marked the last day that the BritCham team worked in the office. The original plan was to work from home and the situation would be assessed every two weeks – over two months later we are still working from home.

You’d be forgiven if at first you thought that we would not have much to do at the Chamber, as much of our business revolves around hosting events and facilitating networking between companies. But in reality we’ve been far busier than usual! We’ve continued to support our Members through council, by hosting various webinars, by offering opportunities for our Membership to join the webinars hosted by other Members to support businesses throughout these times of crises, whilst continuing to comment on the development of the negotiations about the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

There’s no doubt that the sudden change to the home-office was difficult at first. I struggled to maintain my productivity during the first week with distractions from my Mum wanting to chat, from my dog wanting to play, and from my mind wanting to wonder! But I’ve since found a routine that works for me and the days feel more productive now than they were during the time that I was working in the office.

Outside of work I’ve also found that there are now more hours in the day to do things that I didn’t have the time to do before. The commute would take 45 minutes before and after work, and having after work drinks would often result in doing nothing but cooking food, watching an episode of something on Netflix, and then falling asleep once I got home.

With less time wasted and less distractions, I’ve found myself having the time to read, write, and exercise more regularly and I feel better for it.

Though I hope for the restrictions to be lifted soon, I also hope that some of these good habits will stay!

Whilst gauging the wellbeing of the rest of the team is not as easy as it was in the pre-Covid era as the routine lunch time conversations or the daily catch-ups around the lunch table are not taking place, it seems as though our team all seem to be mastering the working-from-home routine, and all seem to be relatively content with the status quo. Every Thursday we have a quiz on Zoom that I’m yet to win (the questions are rubbish..), but it’s good to have a weekly catch-up outside of work.

It is strange to consider how things will be once all lockdown restrictions are lifted and when that eventually might be. You’d like to think that the quizzes that we’re having at present will take place in person as opposed to on Zoom. However, further questions spring to mind about how different things might be when we finally emerge from this: how will we be expected to greet one another if we’re not supposed to shake hands? Is the elbow tap going to stay?

One thing that’s apparent is that businesses have demonstrated their resilience to survive by adapting to the current circumstances and putting in place certain mechanisms to ensure that they’re able to continue to do their work.

This is illustrated by the fact that thousands of businesses have been able to implement a work from home policy for all staff when this would have been an absurd notion only a few months ago.

Whether you prefer to work from home or at the office the long term-effect is likely to be significant.

Geography may no longer matter when applying for roles. Having demonstrated the ability to work remotely for a company in Brussels from my home in Cardiff, what’s to stop others from applying for similar roles but establishing these living arrangements from the first day?

The technological leaps that have been taken on the masses have indicated to me how interconnected the general population, and the global business community has the potential to be.

The impacts of the lockdown may change the way companies hire people from here onwards, which is exciting! 

Still, the thought of working from home permanently is not necessarily something that’s appealing to me. I do miss the human interactions that working in an office with my colleagues brings.

Who knows what the long term impacts of this pandemic may be? All that I know is that I’m looking forward to returning to the office at some point, and I’m fed up of Zoom!

Tomos Ireland-Life – Communications Officer

There are many outstanding issues still to be negotiated as part of the future relationship between the EU and the UK, however one area where there shouldn’t be much disagreement is over the British government request to join the Lugano Convention.

There should be an overwhelming interest for both sides to keep the existing relations in this field. The consequences would be severe and very negative for businesses and consumers on both sides of the Channel should there be no agreement to continue enforcement of civil and commercial judgments.

The Lugano Convention covers cross border enforcement of civil and commercial legal judgements. It applies between the EU and Switzerland, Norway and Iceland and sits alongside the Brussels 1 Regulation rules for the EU member states.

Although the UK will not be an EFTA member, the Convention is also open to non-members, such as the UK. In addition, the existing ETFA members (Norway, Iceland and Switzerland) have all supported the UK’s accession.

The decision to support the UK’s application should not be overly controversial. It eliminates the need for multiple legal actions in different countries, and the risk that companies can’t get their assets that are in other countries. As a result, the system significantly reduces the risk of doing business with someone in another country. Once a judgment is reached under the system, enforcement is rarely contested.

Without this system in place businesses will need to calculate for potentially multiple actions in different countries, especially in cases related to assets that are in another country.

Without Lugano accession enforcement of judgments will no longer happen automatically and the result is likely to lead to the other business party challenging the judgment. This can open up multiple issues, such as whether the compensation that the first court awarded is acceptable or whether the original judgment is questioned by the enforcing court. All substantive laws as to how disputes are settled are different from one European country to another and the Lugano/Brussels system is the only way to smooth these differences over and ensure that a pan-Continental dispute settlement system can work.

Most businesses aim to reduce these risks by agreeing choice of court clauses. Brussels I and Lugano reduce the risk further by setting the rules under which the choice of court clauses are respected by all. As national laws differ on this point, without the overarching framework, there is still the risk of litigation surrounding whether the choice of court clause that you have negotiated and expected to be able to rely on, is in fact valid.

If a business ends up in litigation, much more expense is needed to solve what are essentially procedural issues (such as whether you are in the right court that has the power to solve issue). Litigation also lasts longer as there are more complex issues to be solved. In addition, the end result can still be questioned by another court, costing businesses even more money.

This significantly raises the cost of doing business and this will often have bigger impact on SMEs. Smaller companies, without large legal departments, would have to budget for costs that have not existed in Europe since the 1970s, when the first Brussels convention came into force creating the system which is now applied throughout Europe.

Consumers on both sides of the channel also risk losing out, as under this system the legal system used is based on where the consumer is based, allowing consumers to easily get legal remedy. Without this, consumers buying across borders will be at a serious disadvantage and will find it far harder to enforce their rights.

The damage will not just be inflicted on UK based businesses and consumers. Those based in the EU will also suffer significantly and needlessly if there is no agreement on this point.

All trade needs a secure legal system to underpin it. We have one which already exists, and which works well. This hugely benefits businesses and if the UK does not have access to it, it will significantly increase the cost and reduce the amount of trade that will take place between the EU and UK.

The British government has recognised the benefits which comes with staying in the system. Switzerland, Iceland and Norway want the UK in the system. We urge the European Union to recognise this and ensure that the UK can swiftly accede to the Lugano Convention. In doing so cross border trade, which already faces significant challenges post Brexit, will at least be underpinned by a common legal system for civil and commercial trade.

Daniel Dalton – CEO

As part of the VAT consequences of the departure of the UK from the EU, Belgian VAT authorities have officially communicated to business their position as to the need for UK established companies, that currently are VAT registered in Belgium via a direct VAT registration, to appoint an individual fiscal representative as a result of Brexit.

The letter of the Belgian VAT authorities confirms that UK established taxable persons will have to fulfil the VAT obligations which are imposed on all VAT taxable persons who are not established in the EU. The most significant VAT obligation is the requirement to appoint an individual fiscal representative for VAT in Belgium.

Because of the general nature of this obligation, UK established companies will no longer be able to operate a direct VAT registration as from the date Brexit will be effective, in principle 30 March 2019.

To discuss this, please feel free to get in touch with Peter Empsten (details below) and ensure your business meets this new administrative formality. Peter will also be able to share a letter from the Belgian VAT authorities outlining the change.

Peter Empsten – Head of Indirect Tax

Crowe VAT Representation 

E-MAIL : peter.empsten@crowe.be

Although those headlines that tell you robots are going to steal your job can be disheartening, the overarching message that came from last week’s panel was a positive one. Though the term Artificial Intelligence may seem scary, the panel reminded us that we actually already use A.I everyday – when we search Google, choose from recommendations on Netflix or Spotify or find more similar products on Amazon. Overall, the discussion made it clear that as automation advances, it will be the most human-centric skills that become the most valuable.

Expert Panel_3

On the 12th February, our Chief Executive Glenn Vaughan chaired an expert panel discussion on automation at The British School of Brussels, in collaboration with AmCham Belgium. Discussing the ‘Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: workforce transitions in an age of automation’ McKinsey Global Institute report from 2017, the panel provided a great insight for the future workfoce – the students from BSB and other local schools – as well as the current one – parents and corporate representatives from across Brussels.

Key note speaker Jacques Bughin, Director of MGI and co-author of the report, gave the message that instead of fearing this new technology and worrying about what jobs it might take away, it is better to view these new advancements as opportunities and seize each one. Jacques’ confidence that it is not that today’s jobs will all disappear, that instead they will transition as they have done in the past and it is up to us to decide how these transitions unfold, was an aspirational takeaway for the audience.

Catherine Stewart, Senior Advisor at Interel Group, was clear that there are still ways to stay ahead of the automation trend. Though machines and A.I are advancing in cognitive tasks related to memory and learning new information, they lack our people skills and emotional intelligence. Catherine’s advice to the future workforce, and also to the current one, is “learn to be clear, constructive, creative and adaptable, learn to listen and to challenge in a positive way” in order to thrive.

‘The high-skill, high-pay jobs of the future may involve skills better measured by EQs (a measure of emotional intelligence) than IQs’

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England

Angela Dong, Senior Vice President Human Resources, Research & Innovation, Solvay, is witnessing the A.I transition first hand, and advised the audience that in fact, not everyone needs to master the potentials from A.I and new technology, but to stand out you will need to understand what it is that it can help you achieve.

Melanie Warnes, Principal and CEO of The British School of Brussels, concluded the panel discussion in agreement with the other panellists that the way the future workforce interact with each other, human to human, will be crucial, and that an optimistic view on the topic remains important.

Expert Panel_4

Though automation may be on the rise, the take home message of the night was to take a positive outlook – the robots won’t beat us yet!

‘The future is not predictable, it is to be shaped’

Jacques Bughin

 

 

Saturday, the 27th January, marks the annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, as designated by the United Nations (UN).

It’s a day to commemorate and remember the Holocaust, and reflect on the 6 million Jewish people killed, as well as the persecution and deaths of Roma, LGBT and disabled people.

World leaders and survivors speak out around the Holocaust, its aftermath and why it should never be forgotten.

Much emphasis is put on the need for future generations to learn about the Holocaust and for the world to work towards preventing genocide. This year the theme is “Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility”.

In Britain, the 11th of November is the day most synonymous with Remembrance, however, Remembrance is something that takes place all year round.

There are many different reference points, such as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, which give people a chance to reflect on the horrors and lessons of previous conflicts and historical events, and the importance of remembering them.

Britain as a nation has strong links to the international Jewish community and has a growing one within it too. It was also British soldiers that liberated the infamous Bergen-Belson concentration camp in Nazi Germany, in 1945.

The Royal British Legion in its role as National Custodian of Remembrance exists to ensure that the memory and sacrifice from the First World War to present day conflicts are not forgotten.

Today the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, which is part of The Royal British Legion, will hold a Holocaust Memorial Day chapel service to mark the day.

We are proud of our partnership with a range of Jewish community organisations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and we remember the 41,000 British Jews who fought in World War One, and the 65,000 who fought in World War Two.

We work closely with Jewish Veteran Associations like The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women to raise awareness that the percentage of Jewish men and women killed on active service during the two wars was the highest of any ethnic group, and of the Jewish soldiers who were recognised for their bravery, including eight Victoria Cross recipients.

Every year the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women join 10,000 other veterans at the Legion’s March Past the Cenotaph on the 11th November, in Whitehall.

As WW2 fades from living memory, the challenge that faces Remembrance as a whole, not just the Legion, is maintaining the events in modern consciousness and making them relevant to younger audiences.  This is a challenge we cannot take on our own, however.  It is therefore that I urge business leaders to not only reflect on the Holocaust today, but to think about how you can leverage your company’s history, resources and communities to help keep the torch of Remembrance alive and ensure it is passed on to the next generation in good stead.

Just like the theme of the Annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust states – Remembrance is a shared responsibility.

We sat down with Glenn Vaughan, Chief Executive of the British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium and he told us 15 interesting, historical and weird facts about the chamber.

glennvaughan_WimKempenaers07.jpg

  1. The British Chamber has been around since 1898.
  2. The chamber was called the Anglo-American Chamber of Commerce for a while.
  3. Our oldest member, Law Square – PWC joined as the Cooper Brothers in 1920.

 

 

4. Our first Strasbourg visit was in 1986.BCCP_Strasbourg_2016_Jpeg S-200

 

5. Superdry, the company that everyone thinks is Japanese is actually a British company. Its first export market was Belgium. They opened stores in Antwerp, Brussels and Knokke. Superdry’s annual turnover between 2016-2017 was £453 million.

Superdr.jpg

 

6.  GSK is the single largest foreign investor in the Belgian economy.GSK_LOS_RGB

7. Members of our members employ 120,000 people in Belgium, 1.2 million people in the UK and even more in the rest of the EU.

8. Only 30% of our members are British companies.

Member Companies (1)

9. BMW is the third largest industrial employer in the UK.

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10. We have over 4,000 visitors per year at our events.

11. The UK is the fourth largest foreign investor in Belgium.

12. 1 million cars are exported to the UK from the Port of Zeebrugge.

lng-volume-handled-in-port-of-zeebrugge-to-reach-43-mt-in-2013

Image from LNG World News Staff

13. Belgium is a top 10 export market for the UK. It wasn’t until recently that Belgium was overtaken by China as an export market.

14. 70% of UK – EU trade is with just six countries. Those countries are Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.

15. West Flanders is a major centre for deep frozen vegetables supplying English supermarkets.

Bonus fact:

Belgium is a major exporter of carpets to the UK. If Brexit makes you feel like “chewing the carpet,” bit might well be from Belgium.

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Image credit: Rakuten

 

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My days begin with my cat looking at me and he is not happy: he was not allowed to spend the night in my bedroom, and he wants me to know his displeasure. The fact that I drink my coffee and read the news distracts me from playing with him, and that doesn’t help.

That’s the only predictable moment in my day as an Ambassador in Belgium.

 

 

Whenever I can, I walk to the office, a 40-minute walk, a moment to consider the day ahead, a moment to put my thoughts together, a moment to plan. And yes, a moment when I’m feeling lucky because I don’t have to drive to work.

But I often have to hit the road. I’m also accredited to Luxembourg and I probably know by now all the bumps on the road between the two capitals, as I know also most of them between Brussels and Ieper, Antwerp, Namur and so many other cities. I come from a federation, like Belgium: I know that the capital is beautiful and important, I know that one needs to leave it to meet the entire country.

The geography is not the only challenge. In the same day I can deliver a demarche on a foreign policy issue, meet an artist, visit a company, be informed of a consular case, attend an official event, plan another one, complain (silently) about a bureaucratic requirement, draft or revise a note, brainstorm with colleagues, check on them. And make a speech.

I speak in public often: at business events; at commemoration ceremonies; on so many other diverse occasions. And because my 92-year old mother who lives in Montreal wants pictures of me, I send her pictures of those events. She then asks me if I’m doing something other than just speaking. “Yes mother, I’m also sending you pictures of me speaking.”

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Because this year is the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele I spend a lot of time attending commemoration ceremonies. For the last two months I didn’t need to worry about what I would do come the weekend. The small ceremonies, sometimes with Canadian families present, are the most touching: there is hesitation and lovely mistakes, the protocol is imperfect, the children who play a role look at me with pride and nervousness, the emotions run high, it’s life as its best –as we remember those many soldiers who lost their own.

4 maldegem2017-photo_HOM

But I also have to be present on social media. Diplomacy is a very old profession and if its logic has not changed, its tools have. I was told that I have to be active on the social media. I tried to argue that I was raised in another world, a world where the printed word was everything, but the argument was dismissed. I don’t have my kids with me to help me, I’m missing them -and I miss my electric typewriter.

1 CanadaDayLux2017_04

There is always an occasion in my day to remind me that to work in Brussels as Canadian Ambassador for bilateral relations is a real privilege. Our countries are really close, our relations are deeply and emotionally rooted in the tragic European history, the trade relationship keeps growing, the number of active links between our various institutions is impossible to count, and there is real friendship even we don’t agree on all issues.

And then I come back home, but my day is not necessarily over. My colleagues in Ottawa seem to get a new burst of energy at the end of their day, forgetting that by then I’m well into my night. The internet knows no time zones, but my body does.

And my cat complains that I don’t let him in the bedroom.

Cecile Wright ''ethnic penalty'' Blog

The persisting ‘ethnic penalty’ encountered by British black and ethnic minority within the employment market has been reported by a plethora of bodies, namely British parliamentary committees (i.e., Department for Work and Pensions), the Equality and Human Rights Commission, leading think thanks (i.e., the Runneymede Trust), trade unions (i.e., Trade Union Council) and so forth. The ‘ethnic penalty’ concerns the barriers to opportunities and discrimination experienced by groups of people due to their race and ethnicity.

Within this context of barriers to black and ethnic minorities and employment opportunities there is the question of the plight of British black and ethnic minority young people. According to a recent report by the UK’s Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee (1), “There are stark differences in youth unemployment by ethnic group. In the year to June 2016, the unemployment rate among 16-24 year olds was 30% for black people, 26% for people from Bangladeshi or Pakistani ethnic background, and 13% for white people. While unemployment rates fall substantially with age for all ethnicities, the relative positions of the groups largely persist (2017, 11).”

 

Cecile Wright Blog - Pull quote

Moreover, within this demographic is the ‘silent catastrophe’ or ‘moral panic’ concerning young black men, particularly of African and Caribbean background. Young black men have higher unemployment rates than all other groups of young people. The discrepancy between unemployment rates for young black men and white men has widened in recent decades. Essentially, young black men experience higher rates of unemployment notwithstanding their favourable educational attainment and regardless of their level of qualification. Moreover, black university graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as white graduate (2).

The implications of this lamentable waste of “human capital” for the individual, families, communities and society is cataclysmic. In order to address the situation of Britain’s black youth unemployment urgent transformative measures are required which include:

  • Robust data and knowledge gathering on how the intersecting aspects of ‘race’, social class, affects young black people access to employment opportunities.
  • Government intervention which requires all employers and occupational training providers to set targets for the recruitment of vulnerable groups. Notwithstanding that all minority groups are affected by the ‘ethnic penalty’ in some form but for black young people starting out in life it is a major impediment. Thus, it is crucial that the government set the conditions for the necessary change.
  • The need for effective penalties for employers found to be discriminating against black applicants.
  • The need to give greater incentives to employers to recruit, retain and progress young black people’s careers.
  • Monitoring youth programmes and apprenticeship schemes for their achievement and success in obtaining black young people’s participation and permanent job offered on completion.
  • Promoting vocational educational pathways for young people – particularly careers advice and pursuing parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications.
  • Setting priorities for youth training and employment: vocational qualifications and developing a diverse workforce.

 

There is a key role for employers to play in reducing the ‘ethnic penalty’ and they could begin this process by examining their recruitment procedures.

 

References:

  1. House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, Employment opportunities for young people 2017, Ninth Report of Session 2016-7. Published on 29th March 2017.
  2. Wright, C; Standen, P; Patel, T. (2010), Black Youth Matters: Transitions from School to Success, London and New York: Routledge.

 

Professor Cecile Wright, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham UK, Highfield House, University, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD. UK

Brexit (Voices) Blog Post

New research by the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (COBCOE) aims to give European businesses a voice. Key areas of common interest are identified, highlighting the priorities for a Brexit that secures prosperity for Europe.

Business leaders across Europe need to be listened to. They also need clear signals from the EU and UK that will allow them to plan. These are just two of the key messages to come out of COBCOE’s report, “Brexit – the Voices of European Business.”

The research, which involved around 1,000 businesses across the continent shows that uncertainty about the Brexit process and the outcome of negotiations coupled with a potentially short timeframe for change, has already impacted investment and commercial decisions. Managing the risk that this uncertainty presents is not only a drag on productivity, it means that progress on wider policy issues, such as the  development of the digital economy, could be delayed by the focus on Brexit.

Three main themes emerged during the course of the research which are highlighted in the report:

  1. Barriers to trade – maintaining a frictionless European economy;
  2. Uncertainty and disruption in the Brexit process; and
  3. The UK’s role as Europe’s global springboard. It includes many real-life examples of how firms are being impacted.

The research also uncovered concerns about the UK being partitioned off – even among European companies not directly engaged in trade with the UK. This is because many European businesses value the UK for its financial markets, regulatory infrastructure and world-class research and development.

The UK acts as a gateway for international investment and is considered to be a business-friendly force within the EU.

The 1,000 businesses which participated through round table discussions, a survey and poll, perceived a lack of engagement from governments and negotiators.

David Thomas, Executive Chairman of COBCOE pointed out “Europe’s prosperity depends on successful economic relationships between neighbouring businesses and consumers. Disregarding these engines of commerce and wealth creation will make Brexit the cliff face on which such relationships will deteriorate.

“The negotiators’ apparent ‘zero sum’ approach, whereby a loss to one side means a gain for the other, does not reflect reality. The risks and uncertainties that firms across Europe now face undermine European productivity and competitiveness. Agreement on the future framework for economic relations between the EU and agreement on a plan for a transitional period must be made without delay.

COBCOE has presented this report to the UK Government Department for Exiting the European Union and will soon be presenting it to the European Commission Taskforce on Article 50 Negotiations. Charles Brasted, Partner at Hogan Lovells, the international law firm which supports the project, said, “The voices in this report are a unique contribution to the discussion of what kind of post-Brexit Europe is needed and how we should get there. Businesses around Europe and across sectors are clear that Europe needs a strong and connected UK to continue to thrive, because it is central to access to capital, innovation and talent.

“European businesses recognise that they have to work with the process that Brexit has begun and that some change will be needed to give effect to it; but they need, as a matter of urgency, a predictable framework within which to continue to operate, plan, grow and compete during that period of change, and beyond. Agreement on a plan for the transitional period should not be delayed any longer, so that businesses have as much time and information as possible to plan and implement contingencies effectively and can avoid making costly adjustments that prove unnecessary in hindsight.”

golden bridge smaller banner for website

Gain visibility and recognition for excellence in trade and export by applying for the Golden Bridge Trade and Investment Awards.

What is the Golden Bridge Trade and Export Awards?

The 2017 Golden Bridge Trade and Investment Awards present an exciting opportunity for UK companies trading or investing in Belgium, and Belgian and Luxembourgian companies trading or investing in the UK to showcase their bilateral success to an international jury and celebrate their achievements during an exclusive ceremony hosted by the British Ambassador to Belgium, Alison Rose at the British Residence in Brussels, at the heart of Europe.

The Golden Bridge Awards is co-organised by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium and the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain.

Fun fact: Belgium was the 7th largest export market to the UK and the UK was the 12th largest export market to Belgium last year.

Why should you apply?

Expand your international network, gain business and political expertise, receive recognition for your achievements.

The Golden Bridge Award opens doors to an international network and the connections businesses need to succeed both at home and abroad. Our international panel of judges from the business community are also affiliated with regional trade and investment bodies as well as embassies from the UK, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Winning a Golden Bridge Award will solidify your credibility on any of the three markets and will reinforce your pivotal role  in the economic relationship between Belgium, the U.K. and Luxembourg.

Previous winners of the Best Newcomer category, Orega, shared that the recognition for their export credentials gave them even greater visibility.

“It has sent the right message to our business partners based in Belgium. The award delivers to our potential customers a strong message, as we were new comers on the market.”
-Orega, Golden Bridge Best Newcomer Winner 2016

The award made a positive impression on their business partners with their improved credibility.

Bel’Export, 2016 winner of the Golden Bridge Award for UK business to Belgium, shared that the Golden Bridge award raised their company profile internationally as well as at home.

“As company you gain visibility, in – and outside the UK. It is a recognition for doing a good job.”

-Bel’Export, Golden Bridge Winner 2016

What will you win?

The winners of the Global Bridge award will receive:

  • Visibility at the awards event itself.
  • A one-year free membership* of the British Chamber. If you qualify under our SME criteria, you receive free  membership already if you are shortlisted as a finalist.
  • Participation in our Golden Bridge Awards Winners’ Day programme in Brussels in January 2018 to celebrate your success.
  • Your company featured in the British Chamber’s annual publications and in articles on our social media channels.

Apply now! The final registration deadline is 30th September!
Do you want to be a Golden Bridge Awards partner? Check the Golden Bridge Trade & Investment Award page on our website for more information or contact Alexandra Trandafir at alexandra@britishchamber.be.

 The Gala Dinner for the Golden Bridge Awards will take place on Wednesday 22nd November 2017 at The British Ambassador’s Residence in Brussels. The applicants will be shortlisted based on their financial performance, their innovation and strategy abroad, and their motivation for entering the awards.

*regular membership

-A message from the Dean-

In academia, September marks a fresh start, a new chapter. We are delighted to be saying hello to our new members at the British Chamber Academy, and to be welcoming back some familiar faces, too. The past few months haven’t been easy, so we have put together a selection of initiatives in order to support our community and help you and your business get the best out of these unprecedented times. 

To start, we are now offering online executive education to individuals and organisations who wish to acquire immediately applicable skills, knowledge and enhance their professional network. The upcoming training schedule offers a wide variety of digital workshops, carefully configured to address the challenges associated with remote working environments and encouraging individuals to maximise the benefits of our digitised world. 

In cooperation with Brussels New Generation (BNG), the academy will be offering digital workshops targeted at young professionals, who aim to enrich their employability and thrive within increasingly competitive labour markets. 

Academy ‘credits’ are being introduced as a method of preventing participant  ‘e-learning fatigue’. This development aims to maximise the digital learning experience of our clients and encourages the purchase of ‘credits’ to allow the completion of  a series of shorter, more engaging workshops as opposed to one less productive training session. 

As part of our long term commitment to improving the quality of work within our business community, we will continue to utilise our extensive network of like-minded professionals and offer specialised courses in support of broader social initiatives such as promoting women in enterprise. 

I look forward to virtually meeting with you soon!

Dirk Daenen

Click here to register for our upcoming trainings!

By César Guerra Guerrero
Partner & Director of Trade Policy at Euraffex

The number of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have surged in the last years. It is clear that applied tariff levels and the number of comprehensive trade agreements of a country determine its readiness to constructively engage in ambitious trade treaties. For example, it is relatively easy to strike deals with Singapore or Chile, but it is completely different with Mercosur. In my view, a successful conclusion of a process depends on the political will and the real room for manoeuvre to accommodate each other’s interests.

Most of the time, governments must make important and difficult decisions to bridge gaps, especially in the final stages of negotiations. Trade negotiators have the ability to present results in a way that shows the benefits and minimises concessions to justify their decisions, so that FTAs will always prove positive in countries, or blocks of countries, that are so lined up with the free trade agenda. However, this is not exempted from partisan backfire that would normally use political arguments to prevent moving forward on the trade agenda. As long as negotiators prove that sensitivities were protected by using alternative treatments and specific non-trade concerns were addressed somehow, countries would be inclined to make hard calls to close a deal.

In the meantime, the private sector- whether on the offensive or the defensive side- is faced with uncertainty. It is difficult to know how their products are going to be treated if they are part of the final package that would solve the most difficult issues to clench a deal. The reading and identification of true red lines is crucial for governments. Stakeholders play an important role to influence this vision. Using the example of the EU-UK trade negotiations, is the level playing field a true red line for the European Union or is it just the access to British fishing waters? What are the potential trade-offs all parties can live with? The answer is communication and creativity. The private sector must be part of the solution and governments should be open for feedback as it is in their best interests. The successful outcome for business sectors and individual companies often depends on the engagement with trade negotiators and making the case with sound arguments, whilst providing reasonable alternatives to the ideal outcome.


Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. 
We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period. Click here to register: https://www.britishchamber.be/upcoming-events

By Yasmine Lingemann

On Friday 28th August the British Chamber of Commerce EU & Belgium had the pleasure of hosting Sophie Maes and Sieglien Huyghe from Claeys & Engels to discuss the new changes to the Belgium temporary unemployment scheme from today, September 1st. 
The existing scheme will be split up into five new schemes for Belgian businesses to choose from. See below for a full breakdown of each scheme.

1. Corona temporary unemployment scheme valid until 31 December 2020
Conditions-
The firm must either belong to a sector that has been heavily affected by the Coronavirus OR have a minimum of 20% days of unemployment in one quarter compared with the previous quarter.

Application process-
Applicants must complete a C160A- HGO form to send to the National Employment Office (NEO) and receive a confirmation from NEO.

Formalities during use-
Notify & inform employees, the Work Council/ Trade Union.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Few formalities and applicable to all workers (blue and white collars).
-Expires on the 31st of December.

2. “Normal” economic temporary unemployment scheme for white-collar workers
Conditions-
The firm must prove a loss in turnover, production or orders by at least 10% OR a reduction in employment for blue-collar workers by 10% OR sufficient recognition by the Ministry of Work as a company in difficulty.

Application process-
A new CBA or Business Plan must be drawn. The Business Plan MUST be approved by the Commission for Business Plans which takes roughly two weeks.

Formalities during use-
A C160A form must be completed together with supporting documents. 
If you have a CBA, send this to the NEO.
If you have a Business Plan, send this to the FPS.
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment.
Communicate the economic reasons to support your application to either the Work Council or Trade Union Delegation.
Keep record in a validation book.
Deliver a C3.2A form to each employee an notify the NEO before the first day of unemployment every month.
A daily supplement of €5 is required.


Advantages & disadvantages-
+Possibility to regulate temporary unemployment for an immediate period of one year
+Maximum of 16 weeks for full-time workers and 26 weeks for part-time workers (of minimum 2 working days per week)
-Approved Business Plan or CBA is required
-Daily supplement paid by the employer

3. New “Transitional” economic temporary unemployment scheme for white-collar worker
Conditions-
The firm must prove a loss in turnover or production by at least 10%
Offer two training days per month to employees.

Application process-
A new CBA or Business Plan must be drawn. Business Plans must be submitted to the FPS but does not need approval.
Submit a C160A form to the NEO.

Formalities during use-
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment. This can be done electronically via
www.socialsecurity.be
Communicate the economic reasons to support your application to either the Work Council or Trade Union Delegation.
Keep record in a validation book.
Deliver a C3.2A form to each employee an notify the NEO before the first day of unemployment every month.
A daily supplement of €5 is required.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Maximum of 24 calendar weeks for full-time worker and 34 weeks for part-time workers (of minimum 2 working days per week).
+No approved Business Plan required.
-2 training day required per month.
-Only valid until the 31st of December.
-Daily supplement paid by the employer
.

4. Economic temporary unemployment scheme for blue-collar workers
Conditions-
The firm must be in economic difficulties due to an external problem e.g. The Coronavirus.

Application process-
Inform the NEO.

Formalities during use-
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment. This can be done electronically via: 
www.socialsecurity.be.
Communicate the economic reasons to support your application to either the Work Council or Trade Union Delegation.
Keep record in a validation book.
Deliver a C3.2A form to each employee an notify the NEO before the first day of unemployment every month.
A daily supplement of €2 is required.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Few formalities.
+Maximum of 4 weeks for full-time workers and 18 weeks for part-time workers (of minimum 3 working days per week).
+Small suspension also available for up to 12 months (of minimum 3 working days per week).
-Only valid until the 31st of December.
-Daily supplement paid by the employer.

5. “Normal” temporary unemployment scheme for force majeure
Conditions-
Unforeseen, unexpected event independent of the will of all parties.

Application process-
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment. This can be done electronically via: 
www.socialsecurity.be.

Formalities during use-
Deliver a C3.2.A form to the employee concerned.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Notice period is suspended.
-Case specific.


We hope that with this information, you will now find the temporary unemployment scheme that suits you and your company best.


Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. 
We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period. Click here to register: https://www.britishchamber.be/upcoming-events

By Tomos Ireland-Life

Not knowing many people in Brussels at first, living in overcrowded house and missing home a bit meant that I was nervous to start my new role one year ago. Now, even though this year has panned out differently than what was expected, I can say that deciding to work for BritCham in Brussels has been one of the best decisions that I’ve made.

I did not know what to expect at first. Whilst I was definitely interested in communications and events, in all honesty when I applied for the job in February 2019 I did so primarily because I wanted to live in Brussels for a year, and because I liked how it sounded to say that I worked at the British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the role, and it’s been an incredible time to represent UK-EU as Brexit unfolds.

My responsibilities changed throughout the year as there was a restructuring within the organisation due to the impacts of Covid-19. Generally speaking, my role consisted of three main responsibilities: the organisation of the Brussels New Generation Task Force (the leading network for young professionals in Brussels); content development of all of the Chamber’s social media platforms and regular blog updates; and delivering content and support for the high level events that the British Chamber organises.

Even though we were hosting online webinars, working remotely since March meant that less impetus was placed on the events side of the role and more on the communications, and I enjoyed developing my communication and writing skills further.

I’ve developed skills in the field of communications and public affairs, gained an appreciation of how to organise a committee of highly capable professionals, and have developed the ability to organise multiple assignments whilst meeting tight deadlines. Since early on in the role I’ve learned to use my initiative so that progress with various projects could then be made.

One of the positives of working in a small office was the larger responsibility that was placed on us, and the opportunities that have stemmed from this. Consequently, we were working alongside a number of senior, highly accomplished professionals in Brussels, and being able to learn from how they practice within their businesses was truly a huge pleasure. It’s also been amazing having the opportunity to listen and gain insight from senior representatives in the European Parliament, senior members of the Commission, the previous Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, the British Ambassador to Belgium, and the Chief Economist of the British Chambers of Commerce as these people have spoken at a number of our events.

It’s been eye opening living in another country which speaks another language. My favorite bar in Place Jourdan was run by a sweet old man called Bernard who could not speak a word of English, so I’d then have the opportunity to practice my French. But other than ‘deux leffe blonde s’il vous plait’ I must concede that the only other term that I can say with great confidence is ‘je voudrez parler français mais c’est difficile’… still, I am determined to learn the language if I am to return to Belgium! 

Another perk of the job was that we were essentially given season tickets to watch Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (better known as UNION!) who played football in the Belgian First Division B. After winning a few matches later on in the season we were hoping to see their charge for promotion but this was disrupted due to the pandemic. Now that the season’s back on they seem to have picked up some form, promotion might still happen… as a self-diagnosed Union ultra-fan I will have to return to watch them play at some point next season.

Whilst going into my final year without having cemented a grad role from my placement (as many of my peers have) is slightly daunting, I’m not in the slightest bit regretful for the time that I’ve spent with the British Chamber. I’ve learned skills that I would not have learned otherwise, and have had the opportunity to achieve things that I wouldn’t have done elsewhere. Three of my biggest achievements was setting up the BNG Mentoring Scheme which is the first of its kind in Brussels, establishing and becoming editor of the BritCham Weekly Newsletter, and organising the Connect with the EP two-day event in the European Parliament last October.

As long as you’re learning, any experience is good experience. I would therefore recommend this internship to any student who’s looking to do a placement in another country. Whilst I may not want to be a communications expert once I’ve graduated, I’ve learned so many other transferable skills that I’ll be able to bring forward to whatever profession I go into when I leave university. With the challenges posed by Brexit and Covid-19 I sincerely hope that the class of 2020 and beyond will benefit from similar opportunities that I have, and will continue to have the option to work in Europe for years to come.

By Liam Smyth, ChamberCustoms

@chambercustoms www.chambercustoms.co.uk

The UK left the European Union on 31st January 2020, and the transition period comes to an end in December this year. It is vital that businesses take action now to get ready for a new border operating environment from 1st January 2021.

Until the new border operating model was published on 12th July, we could only speculate on how goods would be controlled at our borders once we left the EU.  It’s now clear – and the new model brings this into stark reality – that businesses need to prepare for a significantly higher level of customs declarations and associated administration.  It candidly states “customs declarations are complicated”.

Declaration volumes will grow from 55 million now, to almost 300 million next year.  The cost to business is estimated at around £7bn per annum, and the customs intermediary market lacks the necessary capacity to deal with the increase.

The detail

New border procedures for importing and exporting goods to and from the EU will be in place. Traders importing ‘standard goods’ – covering everything from clothes to electronics – will need to prepare for new customs paperwork.  You will need to keep specific records of imported goods and you can opt to take up to six months to submit a full customs declarations for goods arriving from the EU.   

Taxes will need to be paid on all imports, but payments can be deferred for up to six months until July. This will help trader cash flow until the end of 2021, but only if you or your agent have the correct approvals in place to use simplified procedures.  Full customs requirements will apply to controlled goods from 1st January 2021 whether they arrive from the EU or elsewhere.

Businesses will be able to account for VAT on goods imports using Postponed VAT Accounting from the start of the new year.  This means that once the staged introduction period ends, payment of VAT due on imported goods can be delayed until the next VAT return.  

What does this mean for business?

Despite the much needed clarity on customs procedures, and a welcome delay through staged introduction of full customs controls, big challenges remain for most businesses.  Declarations volumes will increase, costs will rise, traders need to skill up to deal with new procedures and time is incredibly short.

Companies trading across the globe will need to make a choice.  Should they take advantage of the staged introduction of measures for EU imports and gain a cashflow advantage through delayed duty and VAT payments?  Or, stick with the systems and processes they already know, and use the newly introduced postponed VAT accounting and guarantee free deferment accounts to delay border taxes by up to six months?    Whatever you decide, businesses that export and import goods have change coming and it’s inevitable. 

The wise amongst you will wake up to change and plan your level of readiness.  There is much to do and qualified and compliance led customs experts are becoming a rare commodity.

Our expert team at Chamber Customs, our international trade training programmes and our overseas connections make us an ideal customs partner.  

As your business gets ready for the end of the transition period, our customs agents are ready to help you clear your goods at the border.  Give us a call to arrange a chat.

Whether here in Belgium or across the UK, the Chamber network is here to support you and to help you to trade with confidence.

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