Third of UK firms struggling to import goods

15 February 2021

More than a third (35%) of businesses experienced difficulties importing goods because of disruption at the UK borders in the two weeks to 7 February, government statistics reveal.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show the proportion rose dramatically from 25% reporting difficulties in the previous two-week period to 24 January.

A quarter (25%) of exporters recorded disruption at borders, up on 19% who reported disruption in the previous period.

The figures showed intensifying problems at customs and in Northern Ireland, with 44% of retailers and wholesalers saying the volume of goods they shipped to Northern Ireland decreased in the latest period. This compares to 31.5% in the previous period.

A third (34%) of businesses said they faced exporting challenges because of a rise in transportation costs – up on 25% in the previous period, while 30% experienced importing challenges due to the same issue – up on 28%.

When it came to customs duties, 26% of businesses experienced exporting challenges – up on 16% in the previous period.

ParcelHero said the figures revealed a crisis developing in Northern Ireland that cast doubt on the viability of the Northern Ireland protocol.

David Jinks, head of consumer research at ParcelHero, said: “The Northern Ireland protocol is in danger of unravelling entirely if these trends continue.

“These problems will only escalate as a waiver on customs declarations on parcels sent from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland runs out on 31 March, and certification requirements ramp up on supermarket goods in April.”

Meanwhile, a survey by the trade body South West Manufacturing Advisory Service revealed over half of SMEs (56%) had experienced issues importing goods, resulting in poor availability of raw materials, with short and long-term impacts on inventory volumes and new work. SMEs have called for more clarity from the government around issues such as logistics and freight forwarding, and sourcing components overseas.

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