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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

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

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

 

 

One of the British Chamber’s task forces is the Tax, Finance and Legal (TFL) task force. Its members include representatives of large to medium size accounting and tax firms, law firms, and some of the largest banks.

The Tax, Finance and Legal task force delivers regular seminars on practical tax, financial, economic and legal issues and updates for (international) businesses operating in Belgium.  These seminars offer British Chamber members the opportunity to showcase their expertise to a wide network of business professionals. Seminars hosted in 2018 included:

 

  • Politics and economics collide: Looming crisis or myth? – An informative presentation outlining how political developments such as Trump’s policies and Brexit will impact business operations and opportunities in Belgium, UK and broadly in Europe.P1010244.JPG
  • Masterclass in cross-border estate planning – At this event we heard how to plan your estate like an expert, and how you can save on Belgian and overseas inheritap1010376nce tax.
  • Are you or your employees working in different countries? Here is what you need to know – For anyone who frequently operates in multiple countries, or manages employees who do so, this seminar gave advice on the best solutions for any tax, social security and labour law issues they might face

 

 

 

 

 

The Tax, Finance & Legal task force also oversees the chamber’s annual Expat Financial Affairs conference, allowing expats to listen to informative presentations on investments, pensions, self-employment and estate planning, and mingle with fellow expats over food and drinks.

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Although of course Brexit and facilitating business with the UK are an important part of our agenda, the TFL activities are still aimed at a much larger group of international companies and expats in Belgium.

Since we want to focus on topics that are of interest to our members, please let the TFL task force know about any tax, finance or legal topic you would like to see covered. Or if you would like to get actively involved in an event, please propose topics you would be interested in driving by contacting the team

 

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Marc Verbeek, Tax Partner, Crowe Spark & Chair, Tax, Finance and Legal Task Force

Preparing for Brexit 

It is less than 5 months until Brexit and the Article 50 deadline on 29 March 2019, and whilst rumours abound of deals, unfortunately – from a business perspective – the spectre of a non-orderly withdrawal outcome remains fully in view. With a few exceptions, it is a wide and deep business consensus that such a no-deal outcome would be an extremely disruptive negative outcome for economic operators on both sides of the Channel. It’s worth repeating – from a business perspective – no deal is the worst deal for everyone.

If there is no withdrawal deal, one might hope there will be side deals covering key issues such as aviation or data, but this cannot be guaranteed, particularly if negotiations break down badly. Consequences will be unpredictable, both politically and economically.

Irrespective of that, we can expect significant disruption at all UK/EU borders – notably with France, Belgium, the Netherlands and in main airports. This is a simple function of the UK leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market without a ready replacement legal framework and with the systems developed to take over.

The situation of the Irish Border in the case of no deal is also unclear – both sides have committed to no ‘hard border’, though both sides may have legal obligations under both EU law in the case of Ireland, and under the WTO in the case of the UK to undertake customs and regulatory checks. Once the UK has left the EU Customs Union and Single Market, there will have to be checks and formalities for goods, the only question is where these checks will take place and exactly what formalities will be applicable.

Preparedness notices from both the EU and the UK Government have flagged the respective legal provisions at the moment of the UK leaving the EU, but do not give a clear roadmap for affected businesses in the case of a collapse of the withdrawal negotiations or a non-ratification by the respective parliaments.

At a minimum, companies should be looking at the potential impact on their supply chains of a potential raising of regulatory and customs barriers, possible queues on both sides of the border as new systems and formalities are introduced, as well as the possible restriction of freedom of movement for staff. On a sector by sector basis, the cessation of regulatory arrangement and licensing may also create new barriers to market.

The British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium will stay close to the UK Government, the EU institutions and the Belgian Authorities during this challenging period. We are the go to organisation that authorities are asking for feedback from on business concerns. Get in touch, use our platform and share your concerns, specific or otherwise so that we can get them to the right people.

Matt Hinde, Fleishman Hillard, and Morten Petersen, EPPA, Co-Chairs of the Future Relations Committee

If you have more questions about the prospect of a no deal Brexit, you can find more information on our website page – What to do if there is no deal?

Our next Brexit event – Brexit and Future Relations – An Update on the Irish Perspective – will take place on the 20th November. You can find more information on our website.

 

 

This blog post was written by Marc Verbeek.

Marc Verbeek

Marc Verbeek is a Tax Partner currently working for Crowe Horwath Vanhuynegem Associates in Belgium, prior to this he worked at the Belgian Ministry of Finance, before moving on to spend 26 years with BDO. Marc is a certified tax consultant. His expertise includes (international) corporate tax advice, international employment tax, corporate tax compliance, rulings and litigation.

One of the biggest changes to the way UK companies interact with HMRC, the UK tax authority, is coming into effect from 1 April 2019. Making Tax Digital (MTD) is HMRC’s initiative to bring technology and tax together, allowing HMRC to become a “world leading, digital tax authority.”

What does it mean?
The changes will mean that all UK VAT registered organisations with a turnover above the UK VAT registration threshold (£85.000) will have to:
• keep, and be able to provide, their UK VAT records digitally.
• submit their UK VAT data to HMRC through compatible software, not through the HMRC online portal.
HMRC will no longer allow UK VAT return figures to be manually entered in the HMRC online portal when submitting the UK VAT return. Instead, you will need to have software capable of doing this for you.

Will I be affected?
Any business registered for UK VAT as their turnover has exceeded the UK VAT registration threshold will be affected. Of those, some already have a digital mechanism to transpose the figures from the UK VAT return workings to a submission, however the majority do not. According to figures from the Chartered Institute of Taxation, the leading professional body in the UK for tax advisers, 87% of UK VAT taxable persons will have to take action as a result of the new rules. The only exemptions will be for religious reasons or in the event of insolvency procedures.

What about international businesses?
Of particular interest to Belgian businesses will be that almost everyone who is UK VAT registered will have to comply with the MTD rules; being established overseas or submitting UK VAT returns outside of the UK will not result in an exemption from MTD requirements.
In addition, it may be a greater challenge to overseas organisations to comply with MTD for UK VAT as their UK activities are likely to be a single part of a larger international activity. This could also be the case for UK organisations who are part of international groups required by their overseas head offices to operate specific accounting or reporting processes and software.
As a result, if your organisation is currently manually entering the UK VAT return figures on HMRC’s portal, MTD will present a significant change to your current UK VAT processes.

What are the main requirements?
HMRC’s intention is that software will be used to maintain the relevant digital records, calculate the UK VAT return figures and to submit the return electronically. This is to be done using functional compatible software.
This software should also act as a digital ‘bridge’ between the UK taxpayer and HMRC’s systems. It will no longer be acceptable for an organisation to manually transpose figures when submitting their UK VAT returns.

When does this take effect?
HMRC has indicated there will be a “soft landing” period between April 2019 and April 2020 without application of financial penalties for record-keeping failures. This is to assist organisations by allowing extra time to update their systems to be fully compliant. There will however, have to be a digital link from the outset between the spreadsheet and the linking software that submits the UK VAT return digitally.
MTD as it currently stands is likely to just be the start of the road; it is intended to be introduced for UK Income Taxes in April 2020 and it is not unreasonable to expect that the scope of what information and data is available electronically for HMRC to access remotely will only get broader. As a result, even with a soft landing period, companies need to proactively take steps to ensure they remain compliant.

What software should I use?
HMRC has stated that it will not be providing software for organisations to use, and currently they have not yet informed taxpayers as to commercial software suppliers who will be providing the “functional compatible software”. Commercial software providers are developing solutions and some organisations will have sufficient in-house IT capability to build their own.
“Functional compatible software” is a software program or set of compatible software programs that must be able to:
• record and preserve electronic records in an electronic form for up to six years
• create a UK VAT return from the digital records
• provide to HMRC information and returns from the electronic records in an electronic form and by using an Application Programme Interface (API) to link to HMRC’s systems
• receive information from HMRC.
There “must be a digital link” between all software used by the organisation for its UK VAT compliance. Examples are given in HMRC’s guidance and a very common one, likely to be familiar to a large number of organisations, is the situation where to prepare the UK VAT return the taxpayer:
– maintains its sales and purchases data in an accounting system
– downloads this data into a spreadsheet for manual manipulation
– manually enters the figures into HMRC’s website for submission.
Under the new rules, the links between the two software programs (accounting system and spreadsheet software) must be digital.

What now?
Although the implementation date is in 2019, like all technology projects, there is a lead time in making the necessary changes to be able to successfully implement the measures needed to comply with the new rules.

Organisations affected by MTD need to consider a strategy for the immediate requirements to be ready for the April 2019 launch date and also give thought as to whether these preparations should include a readiness for a likely future expansion of the MTD requirements, be it for additional UK VAT data or for other UK taxes such as Income Tax.

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