Don’t be an EU stranger17 June 2019
Maybe we’ll leave the EU, deal or no deal, but it’s absolutely vital that we remain in the European loop, writes Keith Fryer
It can be strange being out of the loop; I am effectively unemployed at the moment for the first time since I was 16. You haven’t seen the back of me yet though. I’m in the midst of setting up a new business to start next year!
I’ve been right in the thick of things for quite a while and thoroughly enjoyed the ‘meatiness’ of debate on core timber industry issues. That work still continues through my roles on the Governing Board of the Timber Trade Federation (TTF) and CEI-Bois, the European lobbying body for timber, but not in day-to-day trading.
That feeling of not being part of the buzz triggers all sorts of thoughts. Will I be able to get back into it when we start next year? Will it be successful? What’s happening in the market? Will my assumptions be outdated? It’s a mixture of confidence, insecurity and other ingredients that come from being away from the centre of things.
And there are strong parallels to be drawn between those personal feelings and the position the UK timber trade is in today. Whether you’re leaver or remainer in the Brexit debate is irrelevant, what we should fear most is being out of the loop.
It’s absolutely essential for us to maintain close European ties to gather information about the market and influence it. They need us and we need them.
CEI-Bois is Europe’s hub for trade associations. It takes their collective information and lobbies on their behalf, strengthening the voice for timber against the competition. The UK, through the TTF, is on the board and chairs the Trade Working Group, giving us seats at the tables where information flows.
Currently the highest priority issue would almost certainly be fire, especially around external walls. The burgeoning CLT sector is at risk of being impaled on the spike of Grenfell, despite timber not being involved. Masonry, concrete and steel are lobbing strongly to stay in position and the political decision to ban timber from external walls above 18m could be just the start. Thankfully a task force seems to be assembling to fight our corner and it’s pan-European.
When it comes to trade, many UK companies sell timber products across Europe. We need to be able to protect and assist them. If we leave the EU in one form or another it will become increasingly important for us to have a place inside the EU from which to state our case.
The UK was at the forefront of developing chain of custody and environmental systems for timber that others cut and pasted. We still have an excellent global overview because we’re global traders and large importers. We must continue to press our case for flexibility in this arena and the best way for us to do it is inside Europe.
So, instead of being distanced, let’s use our skills and maintain our knowledge by working with the EU for everyone’s benefit. I hope to be back soon in that loop as a trader myself. Having had a brief sense of being outside, I know it’s best avoided!