AMSTERDAMAMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Fearing a trade deal between Britain and the European Union might be elusive, Snag Tights, a Scottish newcomer in the hosiery business, set up a hub in Europe this year to avoid potential tariffs, bringing 30 jobs to the Dutch town of Venlo.
Snag Chief Operating Officer Polly Letson said she kept hearing informally from British customs officials in 2019 that everything would turn out fine. But she wasn't so sure.
"As it got into the early part of this year, especially with COVID, I was just thinking 'Oh, I bet nobody is really going to be able to fix this by the end of the year'."
Dutch officials say Snag, founded in 2017, is one of hundreds of companies to have shifted jobs to the Netherlands from Britain over the past two years.
Snag's tights are made and dyed in Italy, and until recently, were sold and distributed from Livingston, Scotland.
Without a Britain-EU trade deal by Jan. 1, Snag's tights would face 12% in tariffs upon arrival in Scotland from Italy. Then shipments back to Europe -- a third of its market and growing -- would mean a second 12% tariff on top of that.
The business risked devastation.
After some wooing by Dutch officials Snag chose to open a new packaging and distribution centre in Venlo in the southeast, due its strategic location and the availability of English-speaking workers. Company founder Brie Read also has Dutch ancestry.
"It won't come as a surprise that we are very busy due to Brexit," said Michiel Bakhuizen, spokesman for the Netherlands' Foreign Investment Agency.
"Through 2019, 140 companies opted to move to the Netherlands and we were talking to 250 companies, but that has now increased to nearly 500."
There was a party atmosphere at the newly opened Venlo warehouse on Monday, with some workers modelling their favourite products.
"It's not good for England, but it's good for Holland," said Kebba Sissawo, a Gambian immigrant who works in packaging, of the company's arrival.
The Venlo hub will serve European customers, while Livingston will serve Britain, as well as Australia and the U.S. depending on which trade deals Britain eventually strikes.
Asked what the company would do if a Britain-EU agreement emerged at the last moment in 2020, Letson paused.
"It wouldn't bother me," she said.
"We probably would have gotten a bigger warehouse in Scotland but instead we're here... it's cemented the ties that we hoped to build with our customers in Europe because we can deliver faster here."
(Reporting by Toby Sterling. Additional reporting by Esther Verkaik and Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)