The head of the Chemical Industry Association (CIA) has warned that UK officials are making a smaller contribution to EU chemical policy discussions because of their focus on how Brexit can be carried out. And other member states are less inclined to listen to their views, now the UK has voted to leave the trade bloc.
During a recent Chemical Watch webinar on Brexit, chief executive Steve Elliott said the UK has historically been seen as a member state that supports “proportionate, pragmatic, science[-based] and risk-based” regulation, and the CIA “wants that input to continue, certainly for the two years before we leave.
“[But] we already have a concern that input is being withdrawn to concentrate on the job of exiting the EU. Either [UK] officials are keeping relatively quiet in European meetings or, going further, they are simply not listened to because of the decision taken.”
There are a number of proposed measures “of significance” to the UK chemical industry before the country leaves the EU, and he urged UK government officials taking part in EU discussions, to “stay the course as best they can” to influence outcomes seen as “supportive of industrial growth”.
About three-quarters of CIA’s membership is headquartered outside the UK, “so we need to convey the message that the UK remains open for business”, Mr Elliott said.
The UK government's plans to publish a green paper on industrial strategy are “now, more than ever, essential, given that we are seemingly going it alone following the Brexit vote”.
However, Mr Elliott said the initial uncertainty over the future of the UK chemical industry, and of related policy, seems to be clearing. “A month ago I would say [the Brexit process] was like grabbing fog - it was poorly coordinated [and] fragmented. It feels like grabbing mist now. It’s a little bit better [and] there is more coordination. The deadlines for input remain ridiculously tight, but it is better in terms of consultation.”
The CIA recently conducted a members’ survey on Brexit, to which 35 companies responded. The export sales of these companies total £5.6bn to the rest of the EU and they employ around 32,700 workers in manufacturing or related activities.
Key points from the survey include:
- the impact of tariffs on UK-EU exports and imports will be significant and, in some cases, would lead to a reduction in UK manufacturing activity. In November, CIA Brexit taskforce member and Cefic vice president, Tony Bastock, described tariff-free access to the EU market as “critical” for UK-based chemical firms;
- impacts will be larger if non-tariff costs are also included;
- access to skills from non-UK EU citizens are important, particularly in specialist science-type roles;
- Brexit will affect R&D spending but government policies can help to reduce the impact through fiscal incentives; and
- better risk-based regulation and a successful industrial strategy, after Brexit, could improve the competitiveness of UK manufacturing.