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Foreign businesses to UK: solve Brexit or risk £100bn in trade

Business leaders from the US, Canada, Japan and India have told the British government to solve the Brexit issue urgently or put more than £100bn worth of trade at risk.

Lobby groups representing business interests from the four countries took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement on Brexit before the European council summit this week. It came days after Airbus said its investment in the UK would be at risk from a hard Brexit, prompting the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to say the Franco-German aircraft maker’s intervention was “completely inappropriate”.

Groups representing corporate giants including Nissan, Bombardier and Facebook expressed their concerns on Monday that Britain was heading towards a disorderly departure from the EU, potentially affecting more than £100bn in trade and putting investment in the UK at risk.

“International businesses who are heavily invested in both the EU and the UK are calling for urgent progress on the key outstanding issues remaining in the talks,” they said in the statement. “Resolving as many of the remaining concerns as possible is becoming more urgent by the day – with the clock ticking towards the October deadline for a final withdrawal agreement.”

The statement was signed by the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU, representing companies including Boeing, Exxon Mobile, Facebook, Dell, Coca-Cola and FedEx. It was also signed by the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business, Europe India Chamber of Commerce and the Japan Business Council in Europe.

The statement said they recognised the complexity of finding a solution for the Irish border, but urged both the EU and the UK to continue to try to find agreement on the issue.

In the meantime, they urged policymakers to “dedicate time and thought at the upcoming summit” to address the remaining issues, including the role of the European court of justice, the future UK-EU regulatory regime and post-Brexit preparedness.

“Reaching agreement on these issues will provide businesses with more confidence that a withdrawal agreement can be agreed and ratified, thereby providing legal certainty for the proposed transition period and avoiding the worst-case ‘cliff-edge’ scenario in March 2019 ,” the statement said.

It reflects a growing frustration in business over the lack of a clear Brexit strategy two years after the referendum.

In the wake of the Airbus comments, BMW said it needed clarity on Brexit negotiations “in the next couple of months”. Car manufacturers are expected to issue a fresh and strong warning over Brexit at a Society of Motor Manufacturing and Traders (SMMT) meeting on Tuesday.

The car industry employs more than 800,000 people in the UK and the Japanese ambassador has warned Theresa May that his country’s firms will quit Britain if a botched Brexit makes it unprofitable to stay.

Koji Tsuruoka told the prime minister earlier this year that if “there is no profitability of continuing operation in [the] UK … no private company can continue operations”.

Both he and the outgoing boss of BMW will speak at the SMMT conference.

Japan’s business interests in the UK include Nissan, Mitsubishi, Panasonic and Honda, with trade with the UK worth £46bn. Nissan, Toyota and Honda began their UK operations in Britain in the 1980s and now build nearly half of all of the 1.7m cars produced in the UK last year.

The car industry is concerned that if the UK does not stay in the single market, it will be hit by costly delays in delivering components from the EU.

America’s import and export trade with the UK is worth around £43bn but it is also a heavy investor in business with a large presence in the UK in tech, pharmaceuticals and transport.

Canada’s business interests in the UK include the Bombardier aircraft wing factory in Belfast, which was recently saved from making thousands of redundancies after winning a legal challenge in a trade dispute with US rival Boeing and the Trump administration.

The UK ranks as Canada’s second most important trading partner after the US with bilateral trade worth CN$27.1bn (£15bn). India’s exports to the UK are valued at around $9bn (£6.79bn) with machinery and clothing among the highest value products.

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