Brexit has been “a horrendous experience for Maltese businesses,” according to the CEO of the Malta Chamber of SMEs.

It is three years to the day since Britain left the European Union and “Brexit has affected many countries, but especially Malta,” Abigail Mamo said.

On January 31, 2020, the UK ceased to be a member of the EU, entering a transition period until the following December.

Times of Malta spoke to leading figures across a range of sectors including business, education, tourism, science and technology.

This first article examines the effect of Brexit on Malta’s business community.

“This country had a close relationship with the UK for a long time, especially in terms of business,” Mamo explained.

“As a result of Brexit, the ways of doing business had to change, and even for UK brands in Malta, things are not as comfortable as they used to be.”

Three years on, “we’re still struggling with Brexit,” she said, citing difficulties including increased bureaucracy and a less attractive consumer market, both in terms of available goods and regulation.

“The market has suffered and consumers have suffered from a lack of choice.”

Figures from the National Statistics Office (NSO) reveal that following Britain’s departure from the EU, imports of various food products fell both in monetary value and weight in kilos.

Abigail Mamo.Abigail Mamo.

The same was true for clothing. In some cases, while the total weight of some classes of imports fell drastically, their value decreased more steadily, indicating higher import prices.

Mamo highlights that following Brexit, additional documentation is now required for some food products and items containing leather.

She said that since the UK’s departure from the union, British goods sold to European customers are no longer covered by EU consumer protection laws.

While the UK does have its own distance-selling regulations in place, the procedures outlined on the UK government website to ensure compliance are arduous to say the least.

The process involves eight separate steps including, but not limited to, applying for licences, registering for an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number, determining if recipients should make an import declaration, finding the correct commodity code to classify the goods being exported, preparing export documentation and ensuring the goods are cleared at UK customs.

For many UK businesses, especially smaller enterprises, this has made exporting their goods not just unappealing but practically impossible.

According to a study published in December last year by the British Chambers of Commerce, “as many as 42 per cent of product lines previously exported from the UK to the EU were stopped during the first 15 months of the TCA”.

The TCA, or EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, is a free trade agreement signed by the UK, EU and European Atomic Energy Community on December 30, 2020.

A spokesperson for the Malta Chamber of Commerce reported that the country had been negatively impacted in sectors including imports of medicines, foodstuffs, second-hand cars and education.

The chamber noted that UK retail franchises and exports from Malta to the UK had also been affected.

“The opportunities we had for Maltese individuals to specialise in various sectors has been lost,” they added.

The UK has historically been a strong trading partner for Malta, offering a wide range of goods on a large scale with labelling in English, a primary language in Malta.

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