Things have been particularly busy at the British Chamber over the last few months.
In common with most other organisations in Brussels, Covid-19 meant we had quickly transitioned to a digital working environment and have held many webinars in place of our normal in person events. We have also strengthening our external communications in order to give the Chamber a bigger public voice in the policy debates in Brussels.
However, we have been particularly focused on how Covid-19 and Brexit will affect businesses who trade in both the EU and the UK in the future.
The true economic effects of Covid-19 are likely to become apparent in the autumn, particularly if a second wave does emerge.
However we very much applauded the actions that the UK government, the Belgium government and the EU all took in order to keep businesses afloat. The support from all three for business has been unique and necessary. However this will not be enough, businesses also need governments to commit to business friendly legislation and remove some of the regulations which can, in the current circumstances strangle business growth.
We have also been positively surprised by the response from our membership to help fellow members in this time of need, and I’d like to thank our members for the comradery that’s been shown. Our members have offered free advice to other members, and have offered the opportunity for other members to join the various webinars that they hosted to support businesses.
Brexit and the negotiations over the future EU/UK trade deal remain at the forefront of the work of the chamber, with our Future Relations, EU, and BTI Committees closely tracking the progress of these negotiations closely.
Following the announcement that there will be no extension beyond the transition period between the EU and the UK it’s now clear that the UK will be leaving the current EU rules in January 2021. Businesses need to be fully aware of what this will mean, as even if a deal is agreed, there will be fundamental changes in cross channel trade, particularly for services and in terms of customs arrangements and market access.
The most likely scenario remains that a deal will be done before the end of the year, but this does not guarantee that it will be a substantial deal. There is a significant likelihood that the UK and EU will spend the next few years trying to build on whatever deal is agreed. Despite this, the next few months will be crucial and as a chamber we urge both sides to strive for as comprehensive a deal as possible. Whatever happens British businesses will remain embedded in Europe and will remain a significant part of the European economy.
The last few weeks have also been dominated by the fallout from the shocking events that led to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. These events graphically demonstrate once again what happens when discrimination stays unchallenged. The lessons are clear for any organisation, be it a business, a trade association or entire countries.
At the chamber we launched a Diversity and Inclusion working group earlier this year to look at exactly these issues. The Chamber is and remains committed to fighting racism and discrimination in all forms. We are hoping that in the near future we will speak with MEP Pierrette Hezberger-Fofana, who was recently a victim of what appears to be racially motivated incident with police in Brussels at Gare du Nord, about the mistreatment that she and many others face on a daily basis in Europe.
The last few months have been testing, both economically and socially, however we can tentatively hope that we are now through the worst and we can all dream of a brighter future. Both Belgium and the UK are easing out of the lockdown measures caused by Covid-19 and provided that there is no second wave, businesses can hope for some sort of return to normality. In addition, there are some positive signs that UK-EU relationship could be finalised soon. Through whatever comes, the British Chamber will continue to be a resource for both British and European businesses and associations in Brussels, and will comment on what is happening in the global political sphere in a tone that is pro-business and pro-equality.