In a published Supply Chain Matters commentary in late June of last year, we explored our initial perspectives of the new term in geopolitical events, that of Brexit. By voting to exit the European Union, the British electorate set off a series of events that many continue to describe as unprecedented. The most cited analogy remains- “unchartered waters and political events.” Such uncertainly not only surrounds the direct impact on the United Kingdom, but on the EU alliance itself if other select countries take a similar course.
On Monday, Britain’s ambassador to the European Union informed European Council President Donald Tusk that his country would trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal mechanism seeking withdrawal, on March 29, a week from today. That starts the clock in a rather complex, two-year window of negotiations between Britain and the 27 other EU member nations and the European Parliament leading to the actual exit. Tusk has asked EU leaders, minus the UK, to meet on April 29 to begin discussions relative to the guidelines for Britain’s exit. In a statement, Mr. Tusk indicated that the main priority for the upcoming negotiations is to create as much certainty and clarity as possible for all citizens, countries, and member states. Supply Chain Matters could certainly suggest adding clarity to industry supply chains to Mr. Tusk’s statement.
Business and broad media all point to the start of some of the most complex negotiations either side has undertaken, with many issues to resolve over the next two years. They include trade and tariff, border security and the movement of goods.
Since the announcement of the results of the referendum, the pound sterling has had a somewhat steady decline in relation to its value with the Euro and the U.S. Dollar. As a rather positive consequence has been increased attraction of British goods among domestic and global markets. Broad supply chain activity, as reflected by the CIPS UK Manufacturing Index, reached a significantly high value of 56.1 at the end of December, with the report noting that rates of growth in production and new orders were among the best observed over the past two-and-one-half years. Since December, this index has moderated slightly to 55.9 in January, and 54.6 in February, both reflecting healthy activity. Thus, in the short-term, the UK has garnered supply chain economic benefit related to Brexit.
The open question is course, the longer-term picture.
Entering the triggering of Article 50, British Prime Minister Theresa May has advocated for a “clean” break from the EU. She has threatened to walk away from negotiations if Britain did not get the trade deals it was seeking or if the EU tried to impose punitive measures. She has further indicated that the UK could cut corporate taxes, loosen regulations, and could have a free trade deal with the EU that would include tariff-free access. British media including the Financial Times have interpreted such a stance as to indicate that Britain could transform itself into the low-tax Singapore of the west. Such declarations appear to not set well with established EU countries.
Thus, a lot will transpire over the coming months and industry supply chain strategies will have find ways to navigate such a geopolitical environment. Most observers tend to believe that new trade agreements between both parties cannot be realistically negotiated and ratified by over 30 various parliaments in two years’ time. In fact, Mrs. May has indicated that the entire body of EU laws will be copied onto British statutes, and then over time modified by negotiation events and outcomes. The Economist noted in its editorials that it has recently taken nearly seven years to secure Canada’s free-trade deal with the EU.
As noted in our original commentary, two major industries dominating UK based manufacturing are automotive and the aerospace industry, the latter being focused primarily in commercial aircraft component manufacturing. Two of the most dominant stakeholder brands of autos are Volkswagen and Tata Motors, followed by Nissan and Toyota. According to Wikipedia, the aerospace industry within the U.K. is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry in the world, depending upon the method of measurement. The industry employs around 113,000 people directly and around 276,000 indirectly and has an annual turnover of around £25 billion. Domestic companies with a large presence include BAE Systems (the world’s third-largest defense contractor), Britten-Norman, Cobham, GKN, Meggitt, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce (the world’s second-largest aircraft engine maker), and Ultra Electronics. External companies with a major presence include Boeing, Bombardier, Airbus, Finmeccanica, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Safran and Thales Group. As indicated in our 2017 predictions, the aerospace industry itself is believed to be reaching a 15-20 year inflection point, one that will be quite different from the past boom years of upwards of 10 year customer order backlogs.
No doubt, the invoking of Article 50 begins a period of discernable uncertainty among specific industry supply chains, related to access to key markets, financial goal performance, engineering, manufacturing, and overall talent capability.
A lot can and undoubtedly will occur, since in today’s clock speed of global business, two years can be a rather long-time, perhaps reflecting a new wave of geopolitical and technology change.
So goes this global environment of uncertainty, implications that seem near but yet so far.
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