UK's post-Brexit foreign trade looks grim, study shows

A study by Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) has painted a grim post-Brexit picture for Britain’s foreign trade.

The study, entitled Brexit and its Consequences, looks at how the share of Britain’s exports to the EU – currently worth around €189bn, about half of the UK’s entire export volume – might be affected. In 2017, four out of five of Britain’s top export markets are EU countries: behind the USA are Germany, France, the Netherlands and Ireland.

A hard Brexit will instantly nullify any chance of free goods movement between the UK and the EU, with long wait times and customs issues becoming inevitable. Even in the case of a free trade agreement, only goods produced in part from both sides of the new border will be able to move more freely.

This will create opportunities for countries within the EU to gain competitive advantage, with the automobile, chemical, electronics and machine industries particular targets, according to the report.

Services will also be affected. More than a third of Britain’s service exports go to the EU as well, according to statistics from 2016. It remains highly questionable how, or indeed if, service industries could be integrated into a free trade agreement.

The study shows the extent of the potential disruption to the UK trade balance that Brexit could cause,” said study co-author, GTAI’s Oliver Döhne.

It’s not to say all of these consequences could happen, there are strategies companies can use to avoid the worst-case scenarios. But it does show an increased level of risk now attached to having an exporting business based exclusively in the UK, and outlines opportunities for European-based companies.”

GTAI reported last week that foreign direct investment from the UK across Europe had risen 33%, with Germany alone seeing the number of UK investment projects inside its borders jumping 21%. Financial services and ICT are the main recipient industries of the investments, but the shareholding acquisition of British companies and investors in German companies has also increased sharply.

Only now, as the statistics become more recent and the moment of any form of Brexit moves nearer, can we begin to see the potential effects of the Brexit decision,” said Dr. Robert Hermann, CEO of GTAI.

All the EU countries are stakeholders in this situation, not only the UK, so it is crucial for all stakeholders to know what is at stake and for all business opportunities to be recognized.

We regret the decision of the UK to leave the EU, but business continues as usual and while this study shows that there will be an undeniable effect on the UK’s industry, it also shows that there will be strategic opportunities for all companies within the EU as a result.”

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