How much do businesses need Europe?

Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

I was recently asked the question: How much do businesses need Europe? The feedback I received from our members was loud and clear. Europe is a very important trading market to a large number of significant employers in Norfolk. 

Europe represents a large market opportunity and business potential of any company based in the UK. Over 50% of exports from the UK go to EU and in this region, it is even more significant, with 60% of our exports bound for the EU.

With 500 million people, Europe is a large internal market for business. There is the ability to move goods and services as freely from Norwich to Berlin as from Norwich to Leeds.

The absence of tariffs and administrative barriers has helped Norfolk businesses enjoy the sort of freedom that firms in other free trade areas enjoy. A quote from one of our Norwich member reflects much of the feedback we received: “The thought of a divided Europe with the associated export and legal requirements is like a doomsday scenario”

The EU provides businesses with access to new markets, a wider pool of labour and very importantly suppliers.  In many instances this has led to lower costs making products more competitive not just in Europe but domestically and to other overseas markets.

Europe is seen as having a ‘low barrier to entry’ for companies looking to grow their market overseas for the first time. As the UK market continues to be challenging local businesses are looking to grow their business internationally.  The comparative ease of trading with Europe is seen as a good first step before tackling the more challenging lucrative markets such as Brazil and China.

The U.S., Japan and India are in the process of agreeing free-trade agreements with the EU. Whilst the UK has 60 million people and is an important market for them, they are more interested in the 500 million EU market. Working together as a single market does give us stronger negotiating powers.

Norfolk is increasingly attracting investment into local companies with one of their objectives being to access the single market.  Would this continue if we were not part of Europe?

However it is not all sunshine and roses. With 400 new laws being passed by the EU since the Coalition came to power at a cost to taxpayer and businesses of £700m, change needs to happen, particularly relating to Employment Law and Health & Safely directives.

Business wants to see is a level playing field especially relating to Compliance. Often what the UK interprets as ‘Rules’ the southern and eastern European countries interpret as ‘Guidelines’. We need more decisions made in Westminster not Brussels.  We need the protectionism against our service providers occurring within some Member States recognised and stopped.

The consensus from Norfolk Chamber business members were that being part of the EU was very important as a trading single market but changes do need to be made.

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