Candles, bulbs, screws, bags and shoes: it could be that Two Ronnies sketch in the hardware shop – except this isn’t funny.
At a time when consumers are under severe financial pressure, it’s outrageous that the EU is piling unjustifiable import taxes on all these goods.
We’ve estimated that it is adding£16 million a year to import costs for UK retailers and, if the new duties that are planned come in this year, that will rise to£30 million. That can only push up shop prices and overall inflation – not amusing at all.
And low-income families suffer the most. They spend a greater proportion of their income on goods – which have their prices affected by global trade – rather than services, which tend not to.
Amid all the talk of food prices, no one should lose sight of how much prices of non-food goods have fallen over the past 10 years and continue to fall.
Free trade has played a big part in achieving that, but the EU seems hell-bent on reversing it. If ever there was a time for Brussels to put the needs of its worst-off citizens above the interests of a small number of businesses, this is it.
Europe justifies its anti-dumping regulation as preventing “unfair” competition. The regulation means EU producers that find themselves on the receiving end of foreign competition and unable to raise their game in response can launch an anti-dumping case. Import duties are almost always the result.
At the moment, the EU is adding between 10 and 66 per cent to the dockside price of leather shoes, plastic bags, bin liners and low-energy light bulbs; candles and screws are the next targets. But how can the EU apparently campaign for a reduction in CO2 emissions and then tax energy-efficient bulbs?
I also wonder whether the EU’s bold statements on not trading with states with poor environmental records is really cover for more protectionism.
In the past couple of weeks, we’ve met the Government’s business department and European Commission politicians and officials. Both seem to be with us, but, thanks to pressure from countries including France, Germany and Poland, reform is on hold – supposedly, the Commission is waiting for a more favourable political climate.
Worse than that, France wants to use its EU presidency to consider so-called anti-subsidy cases as well. It could target an almost limitless number of Far Eastern products and interpret anything from tax rebates and export incentives to below-market interest rates or the undervalued Yuan as an illegal subsidy. That would allow a whole new category of duties on top of the existing ones.
We’re urging the UK Government to back retailers and customers further by mobilising other EU members against this new threat. If it doesn’t, four candles will soon cost more than fork handles.
Despite being in the hardware store, Ronnie Barker didn’t want “more tacks” anymore than real-life customers want more tax.
By Stephen Robertson, director-general, British Retail Consortium