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 Kotly.com 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.