Friday 26 November 2021

GB-DE Rail sectors on track in London this week

Trains ready at Kings Cross (2020)

This time, a trip to London was quite an adventure, in this Covid era! I was off to Belgrave Square to spend two days chairing an event between a delegation of German companies in the rail sector, with a combined annual turnover of over a billion pounds, and GB representatives of key organisations, companies, and government departments. 

The event had been planned and implemented by Europartnerships, on behalf of the BMWi, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the ministry's program "Mittelstand Global", which supports exporting German SMEs.

Day one, Hendrik, Stefan, Johann, Stuart, Robert, Yannik and Thomas, representing the seven participation companies (see links at bottom of article), were the audience to a range of presentations. Although their companies already had global business presences, including the GB, Covid and Brexit meant that it was important to get up to speed with the current situation vis a vis  GB-DE trade.

Some of the points that struck me personally follow.

Topics covered were:

  • The excellent support available by their own BMWi through export development initiatives and portal IXPOS. One of the reasons for the success of German businesses abroad is the integrated assistance provided to SMEs, from theri local regions upwards to the federal level.
  • Different distrubution channels and important cultural factors (how to understand us Brits), presented by the German Chamber of Commerce in the United Kingdom - AHK. (Do accept the invitation to go to the pub after meetings!). Perhaps the most worrying part of the presentation is that our (UK) importance for the German market (the 4th largest gloal economy), in terms of imports has rapidly declined down from 5th to 11th place and still sinking.
  • The UKs decline in trade with Germany was also repeated in figures shown by the GTAI (Germany Trade and Invest) and was coupled with uncertainty about the GB reorientation post brexit. That said, the UK was still the 5th largest economy, expected to have strong growth in the coming years, and therefore a major partner to seek out.
  • The Department for Transport gave us an update on Rail in the UK, showing that in terms of passenger miles, the UK was outperforming our neighbours - and that this was coupled with an exemplary safety record, including only 10 fatalities on the whole network in 2020-21. HS2 and the planned investment in the eastern parts of the North were in progress and a major organisatory change, in the formation of Great British Railways, was imminent.
  • The Department for International Trade gave a very positive presentation on the opportunities and support for companies based in the UK. This was complemented by a useful list of project opportunities and places to look out for forthcoming contracts, as well as contacts for our German delegates to get in touch with at the DIT.
  • With the UK being the birthplace of the rail sector, it is no surprise that one of the key membership organisations, the RIA (Rail Industry Association) has a 145 year history, a substantive membership of relevant companies in the sector, of which more than 60% are SMEs. As influencers of policy and public affairs, they also provide a comprehensive program of events and support, as well as encouraging innovation and providing trade missions overseas themselves.
  • I suppose we all anticipated an opportunity for a nap during the presentation on Tax law peculiarities in the UK, by the speaker from Blick Rothenberg. Instead, the consequences of Brexit had us gripped by their impact on the import and export of goods across the new border with Great Britain. Theoretically The EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) allows for more than 99% of trade between us to go on without tariffs, if the goods are made more than 70% in the EU. Unfortunately, the sticking point for complex items is that the supplier has to do considerable checks to assess the percentage of non-EU items in multi component items or complex equipment and confirm it is below the 30% level to comply. More fundamentally, all your accompanying paperwork has to be in order, otherwise your goods get stuck in the Customs quagmire. Audience tip: if importing goods from EU to UK, get your UK recipient to sort out the paperwork and carriage. I was already aware of the risk of double taxation, by both the sender and recipient country from another as goods transferred across borders. This was another detailed presentation and emphasised the importance of getting the right advice to avoid pitfalls in trade.
  • The talk by Entreprenör covered the assistance in setting up a copany in the UK (much simpler than in Germany but with public transparancy re accounts and personell information held at Companies House. One of the new hazards to look out for was that an audit may be required based on the size of the worldwide group.
  • Day 1 ended with a very informative talk on Transport for London (TFL) and Cross Rail, which shone a light on the recovery after the initial covid Epidemic.