Brexit and the healthcare industry: what you need to know

The Covid-19 pandemic has completely dominated business planning in 2020. But British businesses that buy or sell abroad or are part of an international supply chain also have the UK’s exit from the European Union to contend with.

This is particularly challenging for healthcare businesses, given the impact that Covid-19 has had on the sector from both a supply and demand standpoint. The last thing they now need is a no-deal Brexit. 

But, with negotiations on a knife-edge, it is important to understand the potential implications that a no-deal would have for your business, and to prepare thoroughly.

Logistics

While medicines aren’t subject to tariffs, non-tariff barriers such as delays pose a threat. When the Brexit transition period comes to an end on 1st January 2021, the current permit system that hauliers use to transport goods across the EU will cease. The replacement system that falls under European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) issues only a set number of permits, increasing the chances of delays and higher shipping costs for all involved. 

Cabotage – foreign hauliers working within another country – would also be non-licet and this could further impact trade flows. 

Hauliers can email the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency on shorttermecmt@dvsa.gov.uk for ECMT permits and should be looking into running inventories up of goods and components that travel internationally to limit the impact of logistics issues.

Regulation

At the moment, there is no mutual recognition agreement between the UK and EU over manufacturing practices and batch testing post-Brexit. Without this, medicines crossing borders will need to be tested and verified before their onward transit to ensure standards have been met. This could add weeks to shipping times.  

Similarly, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will become responsible for the regulation of all medicines in the UK from January 1st 2021, although Northern Ireland will remain under regulatory control of the EU as well. 

We expect stockpiles of medicines to be built up in the coming months and businesses may want to consult the government’s MHRA post-transition page for further information as to how regulation is set to change in the industry.

Customs checks 

By the end of 2020, any UK goods that cross into the European Union will need to pass through a full customs declaration. This documentation will be needed whether or not the UK and EU are able to strike a deal, and the extent of how much it will be needed will become clear in the coming months.

Hauliers will need to have prepared these forms before trucks arrive at ports, with the likelihood of huge delays coming from businesses that have not adequately prepared fleet operations.

Businesses will be able to alleviate disruption by registering for international trading numbers. But the UK government has yet to release access to new international trading portals that will allow businesses to fill in the necessary forms, and there is no clarity as to when these resources will be made available. 

We anticipate these will be released over the course of the next month with www.gov.uk/topic/business-tax/import-export the likely first place the forms will be listed.

Exchange rates

With all of this and more to come from a no-deal Brexit, or a skinny trade deal between the EU and UK, it makes sense that businesses are focusing on preparation and planning to prevent a significant disruption to their operations. However, it is also important to plan for exchange rate movements.

The pound, which has been the de facto barometer of Brexit expectations since 2016, will continue in that role, adding another layer of uncertainty for international businesses. 

At the time of writing, we believe the market is tentatively pricing in a deal, although GBPUSD levels of around 1.30 are acknowledging the not insignificant risk of the UK leaving without a deal.

We envisage three potential scenarios in the coming month or so:

The EU and the UK agree a trade deal

This would be a strong positive for the pound, that would likely see an increase in inward investment into the UK, a pricing out of expectations of a cut in interest rates below zero by the Bank of England, and a wider pull higher in business confidence.

We would expect anywhere between a 4-7% increase in sterling as a result of a trade deal, although Covid-19 risks would continue to weigh.

The EU and UK cannot agree, and the UK leaves without a deal

This is the worst-case scenario for the pound and would likely see it retest the lows seen in March of this year (1.05 in GBPEUR and 1.15 in GBPUSD) over the course of the 6 months following the decision. We would expect government borrowing to increase to make up for a cut of inward investment, inflation to rise on expected tariffs, a move to negative interest rates by the Bank of England and a dramatic downgrade of UK economic forecasts and business operations.

There is an extension to allow further negotiations

This scenario would likely be seen as a positive in the short term. However, we may struggle to see sterling rise by more than a few percent given the political risks an extension causes in the UK parliament and the likely positioning by markets.

In this scenario of heightened volatility and uncertainty, forward contracts, or currency options – hedges that allow for protection against adverse outcomes but also allow a client to benefit from favourable movements – will both be suitable.

Businesses that trade internationally would therefore be left with a stark choice:

1. Hope for better rates and continue to trade on spot prices and leave their business unprotected.

2. Put limit orders into the market in a bid to catch beneficial rates during the anticipated extreme volatility as clarity emerges.

3. Use forward or options contracts to hedge currency risk on an ongoing basis, allowing them to focus on the other risks that Brexit may pose to their business. 

Here at Equals Money, we combine advanced payments technology with deep currency expertise and give you access to a personal dealer who will help you understand and access the best options for your business. 

Give us a call on 020 7778 9365 to speak with one of our experts and find out how Equals Money can help your business. You can also sign up to our Chief Economist’s daily market reports below.

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Jeremy Thomson-Cook

Jeremy Thomson-Cook

Jeremy has over 13 years experience working in the FX industry. As a specialist in political risk mitigation and currency hedging, he regularly advises clients on the day-to-day moves of the markets and the implications of fiscal and monetary policy on international businesses.