Import tariffs to be paused on 120 goods, ministers announce before SME event

March 17, 2024 | by

Import tariffs on goods including flowers, fruit juices and chemicals are to be suspended for two years, the Government announced ahead of a conference for small businesses.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch will unveil a £660 million “northern powerhouse investment fund” as she hosts the gathering on Monday in Warwickshire, where Rishi Sunak and other Cabinet ministers are set to mingle with business leaders.

UK importers of more than 120 products from all countries could benefit from the temporary withdrawal of duties, due to come into force on April 11 and remain until June 2026, according to the Department for Business and Trade.

Affected products – primarily used as inputs in domestic production – include agricultural ones such as juices, preparations and starches, and non-agricultural goods such as ceramics, leathers and car parts. A full list is expected to be published on Monday.

The measure is aimed at helping make small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) more globally competitive.

Business minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “We’re harnessing the freedoms of Brexit to drive down import costs for SMEs importing goods like flowers, car parts and leathers and help to deliver better value for money for consumers.

“Around 99.9% of all firms in the UK are SMEs which is why we’re focused on ensuring they have the support needed to grow and thrive.”

The UK rolled out an independent tariff suspension scheme in December 2020, after leaving the European Union, allowing companies to ask for duties to be suspended for a set period.

Rishi Sunak visit to Gloucestershire
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will meet with small businesses at the SME Connect event (Leon Neal/PA)

In her speech to the conference, Ms Badenoch will announce that the state-owned British Business Bank will launch a new fund to boost SMEs in the north of England through access to loans and equity.

It comes as the Government has faced scrutiny over its flagship pledge to address regional inequalities.

“Astonishing delays” have been identified in the delivery of levelling up projects across the country and the Government is unable to provide compelling evidence of what has been achieved, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee said this week.

The first so-called SME Connect event will bring together some 150 SMEs and business groups from across the UK including the Federation of Small Businesses.

They will receive advice on how regulation can support businesses, how businesses can use artificial intelligence and access finance, skills and education, and meet with Mr Sunak, Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce a major package of reforms to support small businesses and deliver more apprenticeships in his first economic speech since the Budget.


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