Saturday, 16 September 2017

Perspective on UK trade post-Brexit

There is optimism that big deals will be signed at the Southampton Boat Show for the delivery of luxury vessels. McLaren F1 has declared its faith in the UK. Aston Martin, aided by the Welsh taxpayer, has committed to building its new model in St Athan.

I am sincerely happy for all of them, but it is wrong for Leavers to cite them as a triumph for Brexit. All their products are relatively price-insensitive, so the imposition of WTO tariffs would not make them less attractive in mainland Europe. (The same is true of fine French wine and German cars, so the argument that France and Germany have to give us a tariff-free post-Brexit trade deal does not stand close scrutiny.)

Those companies also employ relatively few, high-paid, workers. The picture is different for "bread-and-butter" manufacturers. Cost matters to the average buyer of the family car. Tariffs will make it more difficult to sell on the continent small- and medium-sized cars built in Britain. The future of Ford's Bridgend engine plant darkens. Now Toyota, on which company Mrs May banked, is having second thoughts, as is one of the major Japanese sources of development finance, Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, reports.

they are reconsidering their operations in Britain after the UK completes its divorce from the European Union, a serious setback to the British government's efforts to convince companies here that it will be business as usual after Brexit.

The timing of the announcements by Toyota Motor Corp and the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ is unfortunate given that Theresa May, the British prime minister, was in Japan in late August on a mission specifically to reassure Japanese businesses that they will not lose out in the EU market place should they choose to keep their European headquarters in the UK after Brexit. Didier Leroy, the executive vice president of Toyota, broke the bad news to the British government in an interview this week with Reuters at the Frankfurt car show. "A few months ago, the UK government was saying 'We're sure we'll be able to negotiate [a deal] without any trade tax'," he said. "They are not saying that any more."

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