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Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Are we negotiating the wrong Brexit?

Trade and commerce post Brexit has been the core of all discussion since 2016. But when it's discussed, what is discussed is B2B - bulk trade; tankers and shiploads, containers, cheese by the thousand tonnes, wines by the lake. It's all based on the traditional model of shippers, wholesalers and retailers. But just exactly how robust is this model? 

We know that web-enabled B2C - business to consumer - trade volumes are substantial enough to have hollowed out our high streets, and the effects do not stop at national borders. Once every ten days I place an order with Screwfix, and kit - including radiators - is delivered to my front door from the UK four days later. For Christmas I ordered a mixed case of Port from Portugal at about €8 a bottle compared with about €25 locally. English crisps, French cheese, Italian stone tiles are all ordered either directly from producers or their local agents. My music CDs are from the Netherlands and my English bookseller ships via a postal aggregator in Hungary. My work shirts are ordered direct from the US. When I ordered a knock-off Poulsen light from China at a quarter of the £500 price tag of the real thing I had to pay thirty-odd Euros in import duty and VAT - to the postman, all of whom carry cash wallets here as COD remains common in Austria.  

It's not just postal-sized items, either. I saved €1,200 including transport by ordering loft insulation from Germany rather than locally; my snow blower was €250 cheaper from the Czech Republic and I source other plumbing and heating kit from in Poland - a building store that has embraced a Europe wide B2C trade model. The cost of a pallet load from the UK is about £160.

I'd be really interested to know just what the figures are for this sort of business - including the post and pallet-carrier and courier firm jobs. From my point of view, the global consumer market place is now so well established that it is impossible to sever a single limb. And if, after Brexit, I buy my goods from Screwfix at Zero VAT rate and the local postman has to collect it here, the cost is the same to me - but the frictional costs of the tax transaction pass from the UK to the EU. Of course, if vehicle fuel prices increase substantially it would wreck the model - but what are the chances of that?

If anyone has a source for UK-EU B2C trade balances, please do share them.


Rossa said...

Just ordered a replacement set of water filters via eBay from Hungary. Supplier of auto parts! Ok, it’s not completely direct but does offer some protection by using PayPal. Saved me £25 off UK price of £103. Downside is the length of time for delivery but that’s ok when the saving is significant. Ditto, US postal service is very slow so forward ordering resolves that as an issue, again where the cost saving is worth the wait.

Blockchain technology (not Bitcoin) will also change how we all do business direct with each other or with businesses which is better and cheaper than via the middle men or the banks. Westminster is negotiating a 20th century solution to Brexit, not one for the 21st century. But then all of our institutions are slowly crumbling into irrelevance. TPTB will be the last to see it until after it’s all faded into history.

jack ketch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jack ketch said...

So far the yUK hasn't even come close to actually 'negotiating' any solution- all we've seen so far from Westminster is plan-less dithering,lies, threats, strops, tantrums, extortion attempts and evasion but precious little negotiating. The yUK has been 'negotiating' for how long, since March 2017? Yet somehow Davis hasn't even managed to get the EU to understand the British position-according to Arch-BrexSShiteur Nigel himself.

Seems to me that the solution favoured atm isn't even as recent as the 20th Century, but more like the middle of the C19....when what we really need is an 18th century solution ie Free Trade. But there is no way the PMT.May will ever sign up to genuine Free Trade with anyone. "laisser faire" would decimate British farming and fishing- both of whom whinge enough now already.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

I'm not complaining about it - but it does strike me as odd that I can order stuff from China (drill bits, engineering knick-knacks) for less than the price of UK postage alone...

On several occasions where local suppliers are quoting silly prices and lead times I've ordered the same items from UK mail order(availability) and Chinese suppliers (price) - only to have the Chinese stuff show up first.....

Budgie said...

Raedwald, That is a very good post of yours - it pulls together common evidence in a new, coherent and insightful way. Well done.

I don't know where you could pick up separate B2C information. I know that government numbers are not always as accurate as the public thinks they are. For example, my exports were entered on on a quarterly form. There seemed no way for the government to reconcile what I listed, let alone split out B2C from B2B.

Of course the most egregious modern example of government statistical failure is the immigration figures. The ONS uses the International Passenger Survey, so does not actually count migrants. Much as they try the ONS cannot reconcile the IPS numbers with the National Insurance Numbers (NINos).

As for Amazon, Google, Tencent, etc, they seem to be the modern, high-tech version of the English world traders who expanded in the C16th onwards. That is something that modern Remains seem very frightened of, but which our forebears pioneered. We used to be a nation of shopkeepers to the world. Now the Remains prefer timidity and whinging for a living.

Unknown said...

@jack ketch

Decimating or annihilating, do tell: if decimating why one tenth?

jack ketch said...

@ Unknown, according to the OED : decimate = (primary definition) "Kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of." and secondary meaning of " Drastically reduce the strength or effectiveness of (something)". The whole 1/10 thing only scores an 'historical use'.

So chalk my use of it up to the secondary meaning, please. I know BrexSShite threatens to take us back in time but not quite as far as the Romans.

You want to argue with the OED then go ahead, Pyg-me will cower in the corner.

jack ketch said...

As for Amazon, Google, Tencent, etc, they seem to be the modern, high-tech version of the English world traders who expanded in the C16th onwards-Budgie

The analogy of Amagoogletsypal with ,say, The East India Company is, I feel, very apt....although you might have better spelt 'pioneers' as 'privateers'. Mind you that was back when the natives of bongo-bongoria actually wanted our British made cheap tin trays and glass walking sticks.

Unknown said...

@jack ketch

You are indeed correct on the OED definition but your usage of it is ambiguous and if you consult Fowler you will find he discourages the usage when the meaning is not specific.

However your claim using either word is pretty far fetched.

jack ketch said...


However your claim using either word is pretty far fetched.

Why would I wish to consult Fowler, which is merely opinion and not the accepted Gold Standard of the OED? If I ever pen my Great Novel, that'll be the time to consult Fowler, but for internet usage the online OED is about as good as it needs to be. Did anyone reading my comment seriously think I meant reduced 'by a tenth'? I hope not, that would be worrying.

"far fetched"

So a genuinely Free Trade Agreement (ie not the EU half-arsed version of "Free Trade") with ,oh say, China, wouldn't allow them to flood the UK market with fish at a freshness on the supermarket shelf and price no one-boat-fisher here can match? Infact most of the countries so far mentioned as possible targets for a free trade agreement post BrexSShite are major fish/food exporters.

Anonymous said...

jack ketch, will you please say exactly what you mean by your made-up word, BrexSShite?

Unknown said...

@jack ketch

The OED is opinion as is Fowler: the OED is not an absolute: they have parameters. Trying to give subjective opinion as fact does not convince. Merriam Webster is older than the OED and they have other guidelines.

The English Language is not something pure to be set in stone: we leave that to the French and their Académie Française. English is a dynamic language in a constant state of flux and words flow back and forth between all the English speaking countries. There are many national, regional and local lexicons. Examples of inward flow to Britain:

The words “trek” “biltong” “laager” “kraal” “veld” from Afrikaans South Africa: “indaba” (Zulu) “kudu” (Xhosa) “peri-peri” (Portuguese via South Africa and Mozambique). For references see the Oxford Dictionary of South-African English.

The words “Pyjamas” and “Bungalow” from Hindi (there are hundreds of Indian words in English) see the reference books “Hobson-Jobson and “Hanklyn-Janklin” the books are two inches thick with them. “bazaar” “bandanna” “blighty” “khaki” “chutney” “dekko” “dinghy” “guru” “jungle” “shawl” “shampoo” “thug” “avatar” “cot” “cushy” “loot”

Some words from Australia: “Oz” “Aussie” “beaut” “swagman” “bloke” (via the Shelta of Irish travellers) “bludger” “billabong” “Sheila” “walkabout” “bonzer” “tucker” “brumby” “bushranger” “dingo” “wonga” “wombat” “drongo”

And I will not even go into the Australian TV import of the rising inflection of word endings. Called the high-rising terminal (HRT) it has been observed in South Africa, US, NZ, Oz and Canada; as well as the UK and is a feature of mid-Ulster and Belfast accents. Its origins remain uncertain.
There are of course many hundreds from the US thanks to good old Hollywood and the US literary canon: “Yankee” “Limey” “opossum” “raccoon” “squash” “moose” “wigwam” “moccasin” “gulch” “bayou” “carpetbagger”

But as far as the US is concerned, as with all of the English speaking countries: it is a two-way traffic. Because of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Rowling’s Harry Potter, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Gawd ‘elp us Jane Austin; the US is quite familiar with the eccentricities of English as it is mangled out in this country of ours.

One last export from the UK to the US: "soccer" a diminutive of Association Football first coined and used in Britain 1891; see OED.

James Higham said...

Interesting comments thread.

Rossa said...

The atmosphere amongst the staff in Sainsbury’s this morning was rather despondent. Company has announced in the media about redundancies in their management structure but on the ground it is looking like the supervisors who have been ‘invited’ to apply for their positions. Problem is it will take 12 weeks for those subject to this process to know the outcome. The supervisor on the deli counter currently does 39 hours per week but doesn’t know if her ‘new’ job will be the same, 12 or 20 hours. If less she then has to start looking for additional hours elsewhere while only doing 12 or 20 until she can get another job.

All I spoke to agreed that it is partly the result of more competition from Aldi/Lidl and also people shopping online and getting home deliveries. This is backed up by a plethora of adverts for delivery drivers locally. You see this usually in the run up to Christmas but the ads are still running. We had already noticed how empty the shop was up to and over the Christmas period with more empty spaces on the shelves and in the car park and it has continued. Especially compared to Aldi, which has had an impact in our area with 3 new stores. Lidl is just about to do the same. While Aldi don’t run their own home deliveries as such you can buy wine and non food items online now.

Amazon has already done a deal to sell groceries from Booths our largest regional supermarket. Starting in the south east as they don’t have any stores there. Amazon’s move into fresh food will be the death knell to any supermarket chain who can’t compete with modern tech. Even more so now the media in the US are reporting on Amazon’s first fully automated outlet, so companies like Argos watch out! And Argos has instore outlets in Sainsbury’s, a double whammy. Amazon are also considering moves to have their own crypto currency exchange.

You can already sense that the out of town shopping centres, usually anchored by a hypermarket sized supermarket, will go the way of the shopping mall in America. It won’t just be the big boys either. Stores like Pets at Home will have the same problem. I bought a trial size pack of a new cat food from Sainsbury’s and have already located an eBay supplier at a much cheaper price if she likes it. The dry cat food already comes from Germany. The times, they are a changin’!

anon 2 said...

Unknown @ 19:01 -- well expressed, thank you!
Though I'd not forget that the OED and other English Depts. in the UK are full of (euro/et al) students who think they know more about us than we do ourselves.

A couple of other things we and/or Yanks might not always realise are that: i)they didn't invent "gotten" (it's an Old English form ... a past participle of 'got' which they acquired through the diaspora); ii) neither they nor the Af-Ams/West Indians invented "acse" for 'ask' ... (that's OE too: the verb ascian also appears in manuscripts as acsian. I first suspected the latter had come from Home on reading some of Dickens 'dialect', though I'd much appreciate if someone could remind me of the reference!

Sadly, I find young Yanks and their immigrants very unwilling to work with Dickens or Shakespeare. They claim "it's in a language nobody uses any more"; though who they imagine derives anything from their own ignorant, incoherent mutterings, I wot not :) Btw, their present-day 'English' teachers are at least as bad as ours: so far as understanding grammar is concerned. I'm in a position where I must bite my tongue over issues of 'infinitives' or the tense of verbs of command. They're incapable of understanding!

As to the US literary canon!!!!!! Having studiously avoided that oxymoron for over 60 years, I've recently had reason to read some of it. In fact it's very informative - not only about the way they've spoken English since they got there (not so long ago, for most of them), but also about what they did when they got there, and so why they are their arrogant selves. Tom Sawyer can be viewed as a pitiable orphan, landed by no fault of his own at a violent and hypocritical frontier. Hawthorne and his Scarlet Letter tell much of how the early settlers felt (and spoke) about their original Homeland. And Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird does a wonderful job of revealing how the different types/classes of euro-yanks got there and grew; few were educated. And then there were the Af-Ams, who didn't have equal education until the 1940-60s. Last but not least: the Native-Ams, whose country they stole, but who only received full citizenship and the vote in 1924 (1962 in Utah).

So it's understandable, the mish-mash they've made of everything including English. As is their support for the copy-cat model of themselves: the u s of euros', and the mess that Raedwald has outlined today.