On 4 June, the European Commission advised economic operators to prepare for the consequences of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union on their imports and exports.   Following the UK’s withdrawal, UK inputs, including materials and certain processing operations, will no longer be considered EU origin for purposes of enjoying preferential treatment.   Whether a particular good qualifies depends on the rules of origin specified in each trade agreement between the EU and its trading partners.  The Commission advises EU exporters to treat any UK inputs as “non-originating” when determining the EU’s treatment of their goods post-Brexit and to take appropriate steps to be able to prove the preferential origin of goods without counting UK inputs as EU content.  Economic operators importing goods into the EU also are advised to take steps to ensure that the exporter can demonstrate compliance with EU preferential origin rules given the exclusion of UK inputs after Brexit.
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March 2019 is coming and importers and exporters need to be prepared for what lies ahead. The UK is leaving not only the EU but its Customs Union.  No longer will imports into a distribution center in the EU cover sales in the UK.  Companies will need to set up logistics to manage UK imports and exports and be compliant with new UK customs regulations.  It is likely that a two year “standstill” or “transition” period will be agreed for the April 2019 to March 2021 period.  Should the UK leave the EU without an agreed deal on trade and customs, however, the UK would be a third country vis-à-vis the EU (now typically referred to as the “EU27” denoting the 28 EU Member States minus the UK) and all imports and exports between the UK and the EU bloc would be governed by WTO rules.

According to the British Retailers Consortium, with Brexit more than 180,000 companies could be required to make customs declarations for the first time and the UK is expecting more than 200 million additional customs declarations annually.  The most significant impact is feared for goods that are transported by road between the UK and the EU27 due to the lack of infrastructure at port facilities to handle queues of trucks on both sides of the Channel.  The Republic of Ireland faces significant obstacles given its use of the UK as a land-bridge to the EU single market.  While it is unimaginable that a solution will not be found, without an open skies agreement between the UK and the EU27, airplanes carrying everything from people to post, packages and time-sensitive goods will not be able to fly.     
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With Brexit on the horizon, UK representatives are reinvigorating relationships with key trading partners on every continent.  On 24 July, UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross launched a Trade and Investment Working Group to lay the groundwork for a trade deal to be negotiated after the UK exits the EU.  Fox reportedly arrived in Washington with a list of “confidence building” measures outside the EU’s purview that could be undertaken without violating the prohibition on negotiations with third countries while still an EU Member State. Initial talks are said to focus on “commercial continuity” and increasing bilateral trade.

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The basics are well-known:  having triggered Article 50 to terminate its membership in the European Union, the United Kingdom has a precious 18 months to get a deal done.  Unless every one of the 27 other Member States approve an extension of time, the UK will be a so-called “third country” vis-à-vis the EU on 30 March 2019.   The UK Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Theresa May, has proposed a “hard Brexit” that enables the EU to conclude trade agreements with other countries in what has become known as the “Global Britain” approach.   Aspirations aside, the deal to be negotiated between the EU and the UK can range from virtually no change to the status quo for years to come to a quick and risky departure that greatly increases the pressure on the UK to negotiate favorable trade agreements with the EU and other trading partners.
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