Stock illustration: Broken link between U.K. and Europe

British businesses probably didn't expect to start 2021 worrying about wooden pallets after a year of grappling with the coronavirus and a meltdown in the economy. Yet as they start a new relationship with the European Union (EU), securing a supply of heat-treated platforms—baked to 56 degrees Celsius (133 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least 30 minutes—is now one of the myriad issues they face.

The 1,200-page trade deal struck by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Christmas Eve after a little over nine months of negotiations ended the uncertainty that the U.K. would crash out of the bloc in chaos. While the zero-tariff, zero-quota accord is a relief for British companies, it only marks the next stage in the evolution of the Brexit process—and potentially the most difficult one.

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