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Estonia offers Brexit loophole

China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-14 08:46

TALLINN, Estonia - As Brits brace for the upheaval that Brexit could bring, some are turning to Estonia's e-residency digital ID program to keep doing business across the European Union.

Using its knack for digital innovation to capitalize on the global explosion in e-commerce, the small cyber-savvy Baltic eurozone state became the first country to offer e-residency identification cards to people worldwide in 2014.

Touted as a "transnational government-issued digital identity", e-residency allows users to open a business in the EU and then run it remotely with the ability to declare taxes and sign documents digitally.

It does not provide citizenship, tax residency, physical residency or the right to travel to Estonia. Applications can be made online via the www.howtostayin.eu website and cost 100 euros ($112).

Just over 22,000 people from 138 countries across the globe have become e-residents so far, including around 1,200 Brits and last year's Brexit vote triggered a boom in applications from the UK.

Before it, only three British citizens applied per week, but that shot up to over 50 in its aftermath. There was also a 75 percent spike in UK traffic on the website after Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the Article 50 EU exit clause in March.

A "soft Brexit" would mean that Britain could retain access to the European single market like non-EU member Norway.

But the "hard Brexit" option that has prevailed so far would see Britain leave the European single market and the customs union, creating a nightmare scenario for UK businesses as there would no longer be free movement of goods and services.

"The UK may have chosen to leave the EU, but its entrepreneurs can still choose to remain inside the EU's business environment" through e-residency, said program director Kaspar Korjus.

Winners of the Mayor of London's 2017 Entrepreneur competition say they signed up for e-residency to mitigate the risk Brexit poses for their business, a startup making environmentally-friendly wet wipes.

Ellenor McIntosh and Alborz Bozorgi both live in London but say they took up e-residency in order to be able to keep their company, Twipes, inside the EU's single market.

Billing Twipes as "the future of toilet paper", its owners say they have registered it both in the UK and Estonia to boost investor confidence.

"We had discussions with many investors from across Europe, Cyprus and Estonia in particular, and they view the uncertainty of Brexit as a huge risk," Bozorgi said.

Agence France-presse

(China Daily 08/14/2017 page10)

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