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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.

IRAN PHOTO

Foreign firms doing business in Iran may face sanctions, US warns

President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal has left foreign firms with a choice: Stop doing business in Iran or run the risk of US sanctions.

Multinational companies have billions of dollars tied up in Iran.

In 2016, the European Union exported more than €8.2 billion ($9.7 billion) worth of goods to Iran, while importing almost €5.5 billion ($6.5 billion) from there, according to the European Commission.

But Richard Grenell, the US ambassador to Germany, warned firms that continue to do business there would face consequences.

“US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately,” he tweeted Tuesday night.

The Federation of German Industries said any attempt to prevent firms from dealing with Iran is contrary to international law. It called on the European Union to “effectively protect European companies from the effects of illegitimate and one-sided implementation of US sanctions.”

Carl Bildt, the former leader of Sweden who is now co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, highlighted that the sanctions would have the biggest impact beyond America’s borders.

“US Iran sanctions are hardly hitting any US companies, but aim primarily at European ones,” he said in a tweet.

Under the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the United States committed to ease a series of sanctions on Iran and has done so under a string of “waivers” that effectively suspend them.

Virtually all multinational corporations do business or banking in the US, meaning any return to pre-pact sanctions could torpedo deals made after the 2015 agreement came into force.

“It’s a huge challenge,” said Dr. Sanam Vakil, a professor in the Middle East studies department at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy. “The US economy is 10 times that of Iran in terms of size and value, so it makes more sense to do business with the US than the Islamic Republic [of Iran].”

Among US companies, the plane-maker Boeing has signed the biggest deals, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that its existing licenses — as well as those of its European competitor, Airbus Group — would be invalidated.

In December 2016, Airbus signed a deal with Iran’s national carrier, IranAir, to sell it 100 planes for around $19 billion at list prices. Boeing later struck its own deal with IranAir for 80 aircraft with a list price of some $17 billion, promising that deliveries would begin in 2017 and run until 2025. Boeing separately struck another 30-plane deal with Iran’s Aseman Airlines for $3 billion.

Boeing has yet to deliver any aircraft to Iran under those deals and said that it will “continue to follow the US government’s lead.”

Airbus, which is subject to the US license because it makes at least 10 percent of its aircraft components in the US, says it will abide by the new US sanctions but it could take “some time” to determine the full impact on the industry. It has already delivered two A330-200s and one A321 to Iran.

French oil company Total SA has been the most aggressive Western oil company to move back into Iran, signing a $5 billion, 20-year agreement with Iran in July. A Chinese oil company also has a deal to develop the country’s massive South Pars offshore natural gas field. Total did not respond to requests for comment.

Adam Smith, a Washington-based lawyer with Gibson Dunn and former Treasury official, agreed that if sanctions are imposed then companies will essentially be forced to choose between the US and Iranian markets.

“It’s a cost-and-benefit question for EU companies,” he said, explaining that firms would find themselves in the same situation as they were in before sanctions were lifted. “It’s a back to the future situation. It would be a world which we have been in before.”

The Treasury said there will be a “wind-down period” of 90 to 180 days to allow companies to complete transactions with Iran to avoid future US sanctions.

However, the Treasury warned that sanctions will come back into full effect after this grace period.

On Aug. 6, the US government will re-impose sanctions on activities such as the acquisition of US dollar banknotes by the Iranian government, Iran’s trade of gold and precious metals and the country’s automotive sector.

On Nov. 4, the US will re-impose sanctions on other activities including Iran’s oil and shipping industries and its energy sector, as well as on transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran.

Despite Trump’s announcement, France’s foreign minister insisted that the nuclear deal was “not dead,” adding that French President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to speak with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani later Wednesday.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, France, Germany and the UK did not specifically address the issue of US sanctions on European companies, but said their governments remained committed to ensuring the “continuation of the economic benefits of the agreement for the benefit of the world, economy and the Iranian people.”

The UK government updated its guidelines on exporting to Iran shortly after Trump’s announcement Tuesday, saying the re-imposition of the US sanctions against Iran “may have implications for UK businesses and individuals dealing with Iran.” It advised companies to seek legal advice where necessary.

Smith said it was unclear whether Trump would actually impose sanctions on EU companies that continue to deal with Iran, adding that the threat may be strategic, and that the administration could eventually end up granting exemptions.

Vakil said it was now up to Europe to keep the deal alive and protect investment in Iran. “The ball is in the EU’s court,” she said. “I’m skeptical that companies are going to stay in Iran because the risks are so high.”