30 April 2019
Dr Minako Morita-Jaeger is an international trade policy consultant and an Associate Fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.
The UK managed to avoid crashing out of the EU on 12th April for the second time. But this delay extends uncertainty since the possibility of a No-deal Brexit on 31st October remains. The UK’s trade partners have been looking at Brexit uncertainty with great dismay. Japan is not an exception. Here, I highlight how this uncertainty is affecting Japanese businesses in Europe and analyse possible future UK-Japan trade relations based on the three scenarios currently in the UK political debate. This provides an update to the UKTPO blog on UK-Japan relations.
On-going Brexit uncertainty has been diminishing confidence in the UK. According to the JETRO’s (Japan External Trade Organization) annual business survey, Japanese businesses’ evaluation of UK’s political and social stability has been declining since the 2016 Referendum. In the latest survey, conducted in September-October 2018, although political anxiety over Brexit was not as intense as it is now, Japanese companies doing business in Europe regarded the UK as the most politically and socially unstable country in Europe together with Romania. The survey also shows that the UK’s relative market attractiveness in Europe is declining. For example, the UK’s expected change in business profits in comparison with the previous year ranked the 2nd lowest among European countries both in 2018 and in 2019. About 70% of Japanese businesses were concerned about economic stagnation in the UK, and 60% were worried about the UK’s post-Brexit policy and regulatory changes, namely tariff rates and regulatory consistency with the EU.
Since the 1980s, the UK has been enjoying its role as a gateway to the EU for Japanese businesses. The UK has established its position as Japan’s second to top FDI destination ($153.6 billion of FDI stock, 2017), after the US ($491.3 billion of FDI stock, 2017). Unfortunately, the continuing uncertainty over Brexit is already driving Japanese business to reconsider or restructure their business model in Europe although the degree of impact differs across business sectors and individual companies. To date, some Japanese financial services companies have already moved their EU headquarters from the UK to Germany, Netherland and Luxemburg in order to acquire financial services passport. According to the JETRO business survey, some Japanese manufacturing companies have decided, or are considering, to move their headquarters from the UK or to redesign sales and production functions.
It is generally understood that the role of an FDI host country is to provide political and institutional certainty and predictability. The Brexit saga is doing the opposite, magnifying risks and imposing unreasonable costs on its foreign investors.
In August 2017, Japan and the UK agreed to quickly create a new bilateral economic partnership based on the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (not a roll-over) when the UK leaves the EU. Since then, Japan has been preparing for the process on the assumption that a withdrawal agreement would provide a legally-binding plan of the future EU-UK trade relationship. Thus, it was a big surprise for Japan when the UK Government suddenly asked Japan to switch to a ‘No deal’ basis for the UK-Japan agreement (a ‘roll-over’) towards the end of March 2019.
Currently, two problems hinder the enactment of a future UK-Japan trade partnership. First, the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU is ambiguous and not legally binding. Second, the UK itself has not yet formed domestic consensus on what it wants in terms of its future relationship with the EU.
The future UK-Japan trade deal entirely depends on the result of the EU-UK future trade relationship. For example, the three likely scenarios in the UK political debate: (1) the Government’s facilitated customs arrangements in the Political Declaration; (2) a permanent customs union with the EU; and (3) Common Market 2.0 would result in a completely different type of UK-Japan trade deal. (Gasiorek and Winters explained the economics of the three options in the UKTPO blog of 3rd April).
In assessing the options, the Japanese Government would start from its request in September 2016 to maintain the status quo between the EU and the UK. These include: (i) maintaining the current tariff rates and customs clearance procedures; (ii) free movement of capital and unrestricted investment; (iii) continuous access to labour with the necessary skills from across the EU; and (iv) harmonised regulations and standards.
The facilitated customs arrangements option excludes the single market. In this case, Japanese businesses’ requests on the free movement of services, capital and people are completely neglected. Because the UK Government retains its red line of independent trade policy, this gives way for the future UK-Japan trade deal. However, the inclusion of terms such as ‘ambitious free trade agreement between the EU and the UK’ and ‘ambitious customs arrangements’ in the Political Declaration are far too ambiguous to form the basis of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with a third country. For example, it is not clear at all to what extent ‘free movement of goods’ with the EU would be maintained in terms of customs duties and procedures, or what kind of rules of origin would govern EU-UK trade. As for non-tariff barriers, Japan has no clue as to what extent the UK will disentangle itself from the EU regulatory framework.
From a manufacturer’s perspective, a permanent customs union with the EU would be a slightly better option than the ‘facilitated customs arrangements’. It enables the status quo of current tariff rates against non-EU countries and duty-free trade between the UK and the EU. However, Japanese businesses’ concerns on non-tariff issues, such as unified regulations and standards on goods, are completely neglected. Also, neither a single market for services nor labour mobility within the EU are included in this scenario. While the new agreement may require rolling over the tariff schedule and rules of origin part of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, other parts of the Agreement, such as services, intellectual property rights, TBT/SPS related regulations, and data transfer, would all have to be negotiated between the UK and Japan. Like scenario 1, a degree of the UK’s regulatory alignment with the EU will determine the extent of non-tariff barriers.
This option would mean that the UK would re-join the European Free Trade Association, being a part of the EU Single Market. The two major advantages for Japanese businesses are (i) free movement of labour and (ii) unified regulations and standards between the EU and the UK. A downside is that the UK would have independent tariffs and rules of origin, which would surely affect Japanese manufactures’ regional supply chains in Europe. In contrast to scenario 2, under this option, there would be a need for a UK-Japan trade deal on goods. Among Japan’s 18 bilateral and plurilateral FTAs, there is no goods-only FTA. The Japan-US Trade Agreement on Goods (TAG), the negotiation of which starts this month, may become the first case, but this would be a special case to avoid a trade war with the US. It cannot serve as a precedent for the UK-Japan future trade deal.
Last but at least, it should be noted that while Brexit uncertainty is diminishing the UK’s relative market attractiveness in Europe and is preventing the negotiation of future UK-Japan trade relations, the EU-Japan EPA, which entered into force this February, is providing new business opportunities in the EU 27. For the UK Government, rebuilding the confidence of Japanese investors and increasing its market attractiveness relative to Europe would be the key economic issues when it comes to the trade deal with Japan.
 UK’s expected business profits in 2019 in comparison with the previous year: While 33.7% answered ‘better’, 66.3% answered ‘the same’ or ‘worse’. For comparison, Italy ranked the top 2nd, 70% answered ‘better’ and 30% answered ‘the same’. JETRO business surveys, December 2018 (above).
 JETRO Japan’s outward FDI statistics.
 Japanese business analysts debate about Brexit and the Japanese business model. For example, see ”Nihonkigyou ga eikokutettai wo kentousubeki riyuu”, in Japanese (“The reasons why Japanese companies have to consider disinvesting from the UK”), January 2019.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the University of Sussex or UK Trade Policy Observatory.
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Charlotte Humma April 30th, 2019
Posted In: UK - Non EU
1 April 2019
Dr Ingo Borchert is Senior Lecturer in Economics and Julia Magntorn Garrett is a Research Officer in Economics at the University of Sussex. Both are fellows of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.
During the first round of the indicative voting process at Parliament, the motion that proposes a permanent customs union attracted the second highest number of Ayes and was rejected by the slimmest margin of all eight motions. This result shows the prevailing preoccupation with trade in merchandise goods. Amongst other things, a customs union alone does nothing for services trade. In this blog, we set out why the continued neglect of services trade is a major concern for the UK economy. A twin-jet aircraft with just one engine on would ordinarily be bound for an emergency landing rather than for a smooth journey ahead. (more…)
Charlotte Humma April 1st, 2019
29 March 2019
Nicolo Tamberi is Research Assistant in Economics for the UK Trade Policy Observatory and L. Alan Winters CB is Professor of Economics and Director of the Observatory.
The eight EU Trade Agreements that the UK has rolled-over replicate current trading conditions with their respective partners to a substantial extent. However, conditions could still deteriorate for at least two reasons:
Charlotte Humma March 29th, 2019
14 March 2019
Dr Michael Gasiorek is a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Sussex and Julia Magntorn Garrett is a Research Officer in Economics at the University of Sussex. Both are fellows of the UK Trade Policy Observatory. L. Alan Winters CB is Professor of Economics and Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.
Following the first defeat of the Withdrawal Bill in Parliament, and prior to yesterday’s vote on a ‘No Deal’ alternative, the Government published the temporary tariff schedule it proposes to apply in the event of a no deal. As with most things Brexit, this is complicated to unpick, especially as some of the listed items are simply asterisked, and the details on these need to be found in another (1400 page) document! (more…)
Charlotte Humma March 14th, 2019
5 March 2019
Ilona Serwicka is Research Fellow in the economics of Brexit at the UK Trade Policy Observatory.
Last week, the United States published a document that set out their negotiating objectives for a trade agreement with the UK, shortly after the publication of virtually identical documents for negotiating with the EU and with Japan. Those in the UK who expected ‘special treatment’ from the US are in for a disappointment, but not a surprise (as UKTPO researchers pointed out in October 2016). In negotiating with major trading partners after Brexit, the UK is likely to be a price taker because of a power imbalance. (more…)
Charlotte Humma March 5th, 2019
Posted In: UK - Non EU
27 February 2019
Ilona Serwicka is Research Fellow in the economics of Brexit and Peter Holmes is a Reader in Economics at the University of Sussex. Both are Fellows of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.
There are proposals to relax customs rules and duties in specially-designated areas known as free ports or more generally free zones. But these would make little impact on rebuilding the UK economy after Brexit, reveal Dr Serwicka and Dr Holmes in our latest Briefing Paper ‘What is the extra mileage in the reintroduction of ‘free zones’ in the UK?’ (more…)
Charlotte Humma February 27th, 2019
25 February 2019
Julia Magntorn Garrett is a Research Officer in Economics at the University of Sussex and a fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.
Two weeks ago, the UKTPO called for further transparency on the Government’s current progress on replicating the existing agreements between the EU and third countries. On Thursday last week, Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP made a public announcement confirming that little had changed since he gave evidence to the International Trade Select Committee on the 6 February and that the progress has been minimal. So far, only six out of the 40 existing trade agreements have been signed, covering a total of 9 countries; Chile, Faroe Islands, Switzerland, Israel, Palestinian Authority, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe. One further agreement is close to being finalised, adding another 2 countries (Fiji and Papua New Guinea) to the list. This still leaves about 60 Free Trade Agreement (FTA) countries without continuity agreements.
Dr Fox also announced that some agreements will definitely not be in place for exit day, those with Andorra, Japan, Turkey, and San Marino. The agreement with Algeria is also unlikely to be ready. When it comes to numbers, the announcement is thin on details. The Department for International Trade states that the EU-FTA agreements account for 11% of the UK’s trade, a figure that seems low to start with. No further information is provided as to how important the signed countries are to the UK’s trade, or how much of the UK’s trade with the rest of the FTA group is still at risk if we have a hard Brexit in about a month’s time. This blog aims to fill some of these gaps. (more…)
Charlotte Humma February 25th, 2019
Posted In: UK - Non EU
19 February 2019
Ilona Serwicka, Research Fellow in the economics of Brexit at the UK Trade Policy Observatory and Nicolo Tamberi, Research Assistant in Economics for the Observatory.
Earlier this month, Japanese car manufacturer, Nissan made an unexpected U-turn and announced that it was no longer planning to manufacture its new X-Trail SUV model at the Sunderland plant. In a statement, Nissan said that:
‘while we have taken this decision for business reasons, the continued uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future’.
Yesterday, another Japanese car manufacturer, Honda, said that it was going to close its Swindon plant in 2021, and consolidate its production operations in Japan – a move that is going to put some 3,500 jobs at risk, with more jobs threatened in the supply chain. Early speculation suggests that tariff-free access to the EU is among the factors behind the company’s decision.
Although neither Nissan nor Honda explicitly blamed Brexit for a decision to scale down their operations in the UK, Brexit provides the context for the decisions and for the steps that can be taken to cope with them. (more…)
Charlotte Humma February 19th, 2019
14 February 2019
L. Alan Winters CB, Professor of Economics and Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.
Charlotte Humma February 14th, 2019
Posted In: UK - Non EU