Oil and Gas firms trading with EU countries face three possible outcomes if the UK chooses Brexit on 23 June.
David Johnson, managing director of Leeds-based Tudor International Freight, said these could be dubbed the Norway, Switzerland and China scenarios.
All three alternative arrangements that could be implemented following a Brexit would involve time or cost increases for businesses in the oil and gas sector when moving goods across frontiers.
Mr Johnson said: “Moving goods across borders within the EU is easy and cheap at present.
When we import for companies in the oil and gas industry, for example, the only documentation we need is a copy of the packing list or commercial invoice and the travel document.
“No customs clearance process or duties apply and VAT doesn’t have to be handed over before the goods can be moved from the receiving port or airport. This system is the same, whatever the goods being imported.”
Johnson said the likely most straightforward and favourable trading model is that adopted by Norway, which, as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), has a free trade agreement with the EU.
A Norway-style arrangement wouldn’t involve companies in the oil and gas industry paying duties or taxes when moving goods across borders.
“They would need to produce documents proving where the goods originated, to confirm that they weren’t eligible for duties. This is an increasingly costly task, given the ever-greater complexity of modern supply chains,” said Johnson.
The second scenario would result from the UK making a series of bilateral trade agreements with the EU, similar to the 120 treaties the union had with Switzerland.
“When entering Switzerland, goods exported from the EU, for example, still have to undergo customs clearance and are usually subject to VAT and import duties,” explained Johnson.
The China scenario could take effect if the UK left the EU after the official two-year withdrawal period without agreeing alternative trading arrangements with it, such as the Norwegian or Swiss models. This would mean implementing the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Johnson said: “The system would involve us and our former EU partners granting each other access to their markets and charging the same import duties they levy on other WTO members with which they don’t have free trade agreements. The 53 such agreements we currently have with other countries as a member of the EU would lapse if we left.”
The organisation Open Europe has estimated that 35% of goods the UK exported to the EU could be subject to import duties of more than four per cent under such a system.
He said: “The UK would also charge duties on goods imported from the EU. These currently range up to the 32 per cent levied on wine. VAT would also usually have to be handed over at receiving ports and airports, with liable oil and gas sector businesses no longer benefiting from being able to delay this and combine it with domestic payments of the tax.”
Mr Johnson added that additional administrative burdens would apply under the WTO system too. A logistics provider such as Tudor would need a copy of the packing list or commercial invoice and the travel document, as per the present arrangements. But it would also be necessary to submit customs declarations to the UK authorities for goods both leaving and entering the UK.
Whilst Tudor is not taking sides in the Brexit debate, Johnson said: “The consequences of withdrawal for companies in the UK oil and gas sector trading with EU countries could be severe.”
He added: “We recognise the potential advantages of Brexit, such as the theoretical greater freedom to do our own trade deals with countries outside the EU.”