Brexit: Buddies offer SMEs a helping hand

Experts from big companies help SMEs with Brexit questions – this was the idea behind the Brexit Buddy project. Tree nurseryman Pieter van den Berk was among those reaping the benefits.

Media campaigns, roadshows, websites such as and No stone was left unturned in recent years to urge companies to take action with a view to Brexit. The Brexit Buddy project was a special tool: experts from large companies assisting SMEs with Brexit questions. One of the first entrepreneurs to seek advice was tree nurseryman Pieter van den Berk. “Our British customers become importers overnight.”

Not every entrepreneur has the time, knowledge and financial resources to fully prepare for Brexit. The Brexit Buddy project was initiated with them in mind, an initiative of MKB Nederland (which represents the interests of Dutch SMEs), the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers VNO-NCW and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate. Rabobank, ABN AMRO and Evofenedex (the national interest organization for companies in trade and logistics), among others, acted as Buddies. Customs representatives were also active during the Brexit Buddy meetings, providing information about the consequences of Brexit.

The big unknown
“During these sessions, entrepreneurs were offered informal settings in which they could ask for advice about the steps they could take in the run-up to Brexit,” says Linda van Beek, team manager International Business at VNO-NCW and MKB Nederland. “Proper information is needed, because many SME entrepreneurs have difficulty assessing the consequences of Brexit. In fact, Brexit is the big unknown for everyone. Never before has a country left the EU, so nobody knows how it all works exactly and what it involves.”

“This is even more complicated for smaller SMEs, because they often can’t afford to go into too much detail in terms of the consequences of Brexit. They mostly wait until it’s clear under which scenario the UK will leave the EU. Unfortunately, that certainty is not there yet, while Brexit Day is approaching fast. What we do know is that companies that do business with the UK will, in any case, be faced with changes and that preparations for these will be time-consuming. It’s therefore important to start this in time. That’s why we have set up the Brexit Buddy meetings, at which large companies and institutions provided informal advice on the measures available to SMEs.”

Many different questions
Rabobank is one of the institutions that likes to share its financial, logistics and customs expertise with SMEs. “For us, the Buddy meetings were a great opportunity to help companies with questions about Brexit”, says Alexandra Dumitru, UK economist at RaboResearch. “I found the great diversity of companies that we encountered striking. Ranging from companies that employ British employees to companies that are dealing with customs formalities for the first time and from Dutch architects who offer their services in the UK to entrepreneurs who may have to look for other suppliers. For example, I spoke to an entrepreneur who bought hay in the UK because of the favourable pricing. Due to Brexit, he probably has to look for another supplier now. This is because when importing vegetable products from a third country, he is confronted with cost-increasing factors such as phytosanitary certificates and inspections.”

The questions from SMEs were also very varied. Dumitru: “Examples included: who pays the additional costs for storage and/or transport if goods are stuck at the border? How can exchange risks be covered? Are there any additional costs associated with payment transactions with the UK? Is transport to the UK still insured? Can drivers freely drive into the UK? In general, we advise companies to map out the value chain and to assess which risks can occur in the logistics chain – for example with suppliers or customers.”

Trees for Britain
Tree nurseryman Pieter van den Berk was one of the entrepreneurs in the flower and plant sector who signed up for a Brexit Buddy meeting in Aalsmeer. His company, the largest of its kind in the Netherlands, specialises in medium to very large tree sizes, shrubs and rhododendrons. Approximately 100 people work at the three locations of the nursery, two of which are located in Germany. The United Kingdom is one of the nursery’s largest customers. Van den Berk also supplies trees to third countries, but the main focus of his business operations is within the EU. “In the event of a hard Brexit, our many customers in the UK become importers from one day to the next – with all the associated obligations for importing and exporting plant-based goods. For example, they must ensure that after unloading, the appropriate documents and health certificates are forwarded on to the relevant UK authorities, including the British botanical service. And pre-notifications must be submitted before the goods actually arrive. This is, in fact, the responsibility of the importer, but due to the uncertainty of it all we are going to help our British customers with this. In short, many of our Brexit preparations are aimed at continuing the trade with our customers in the UK with a minimum amount of disruptions.”

The buddy that advised Van den Berk was the Dutch Flower Group – a family of 30 specialist trading companies that together serve the entire ornamental plant cultivation chain. “One of the things they pointed out to me was the risk of currency fluctuations, something we had paid little attention to until then. Acting on their advice, we actively started informing our customers in the UK about the consequences of Brexit, thereby urging them to make the necessary preparations on their end as well.”

Positive response
Van den Berk was one of the many SME entrepreneurs who in recent months sought advice at the Buddy meetings, each of which was held in a different city or region. According to VNO-NCW representative Linda van Beek, the target group greatly appreciated the events. “Usually, between 60 and 160 entrepreneurs signed up, and based on their business background, we ensured that there were sufficient experts attending with the right knowledge. Given the positive response, we clearly met a need.”

Brexit consequences in terms of Customs
After Brexit, entrepreneurs who trade with the UK will be confronted with Customs. The full system of formalities of the service becomes applicable and the movement of goods to and from the UK will be subject to customs control. This means that entrepreneurs must declare to customs if they import, export or transit goods. They may also have to pay import duties. In addition, the rules for excise goods are changing. There may also be bans and restrictions in the areas of health, safety, the economy and the environment. To check what exactly the consequences of Brexit are, entrepreneurs can do the Brexit Impact Scan on

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