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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.

Bitcoin PHOTO

Market Watch: Bitcoin has fallen to its lowest point since November

On Friday the price of Bitcoin fell to $5,791, the lowest since last November, and while it recovered in Tokyo, the fall has led to a flurry of speculation that it will be wiped out. We cannot know, but since it is the largest of the cryptocurrencies, and other smaller examples are apparently now worthless, the possibility is clearly there. But of course, that may prove wrong – there may be some value after all.

What can we sensibly say?

First some thoughts about money in general; next some about this particular so-called “currency”; and then some about the consequences of a total collapse, or a recovery.

Cryptocurrencies are quite new but the history of money is very old. People have used something as money for at least 20,000 years. Paper money is only a few hundred years old in Europe but was used a couple of thousand years ago by the Chinese. The classic functions of money are threefold: they are a medium of exchange, a unit of account and a store of value. The second is simply something we can price things in, thereby measuring comparative values, and the first and third are obvious.

On this tally, none of the cyber currencies stack up. They have a marginal use as a medium of exchange because some people will accept them in exchange for goods and services, but they are too volatile to be useful as a unit of account or store of value. Indeed in most transactions, they don’t really serve as mediums of exchange because they have to be switched into real money first. They are, however, an asset class like gold, fine wines or classic cars.

That leads to the next question, and maybe soon very relevant question: what happens now to their value?

With regular currencies there is an issuing body that will in extremis stand behind them: usually a national government. Ultimately the backing is the taxing power of the state. Sometimes that taxing power is inadequate to support the currency, or the central bank issues too much of it. The most recent example of this is Venezuela right now. The Bolivar has lost 99 per cent of its value against the dollar this year (Bitcoin has lost 58 per cent), and if I have got my decimal point in the right place the current rate is more than 100,000 Bolivars to the dollar. So it is in effect worthless. The poor country (which given its oil revenues should be the richest in Latin America) is running on barter and dollars. Currency reform is promised for August, and we’ll see.

So what is behind Bitcoin? Well, it is not clear that there is anything there at all. It may be that the holders of Bitcoin will collectively support it, in that they will accept it in return for goods and services. That would allow it to continue. But if they collectively try to bunk out, there would be a Bolivar situation.

Might there be collective support? The trouble is that we don’t know who owns the Bitcoin. A huge amount of energy has gone into uncovering ownership but apart from a few high-profile holders such as the Winklevoss twins in America, the names remain concealed. By looking at IP addresses, it is clear that ownership is very concentrated. According to BitInfoChart, 87 per cent of all coins issues are held by 0.5 per cent of holders. But the big holders don’t seem very active, for many of them don’t seem to have sold any at all.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the larger holders in the developed world fall into five groups. There are some tech-savvy people who got in very early and saw cryptocurrencies almost as a game. They are probably still holding onto all or most of their stock. Second, there are people around the world who have suddenly come into money – oil workers in Kazakhstan – and want to pop it into a variety of different investments. Third, there are computer students, who literally bought the hype and put cash into a few Bitcoin while there were still affordable. Four, there are general investors, many of whom who got suckered in last autumn and are sitting on big losses. And finally there are the illegal or tax-avoiding holders who want an asset that is under the radar.

The intriguing question is this: who, among these groups, really needs to sell? We have seen a collapse of the currency, but from a very high level. Many holders, probably most, will be still on a profit. So the question will be whether enough of them decide that they do want the deposit for a house or whatever else.

But this is in the West. Most of the trading in Bitcoin is now in Asia, with much of that in China. It may be that this is more trading than holding, or it may be that investors in the developed world have indeed been gradually unloading their stock and this is being picked up by Chinese investors. It may be that as and when the final collapse comes, the run will start in Asia. We simply don’t know.

What we do know is that cybercurrencies are much frowned upon by the financial establishment in the West. There are a few supporters but not many. On Friday Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic advisor at Allianz, said Bitcoin would be a buy if the price falls below $5,000. The most scathing and detailed commentary came last week from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). It said there were three problems: scalability, stability and trust.

On scalability it pointed out that these currencies were now using enough electric power to run Switzerland. It follows that if they were to grow further there would not be enough power in the world to drive them. Stability, well – we have seen what has happened. And trust? The BIS thinks that the decentralised nature of cryptocurrencies is a weakness rather than a strength.

We will know the answer pretty soon. My instinct is that these cryptocurrencies will disappear in a puff of smoke. I just hope too many people are not too damaged when it happens.

Tax PHOTO

The 10 countries that make the most money from taxes

Paying taxes is something no one enjoys doing, but the amount individuals and companies pay varies enormously throughout the world. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has calculated how much tax was paid in 2016 by 10 countries. Here’s what it discovered. How does your country measure up?

Australia: $348 Billion

The latest figures available show Australia raised $348 billion from its 24.13 million-strong population. Individuals pay income tax on a progressive basis from 19% to 45%. A Medicare Levy is payable on top to pay for public healthcare; this was increased from 1.5% to 2% in 2014, while since 2015 higher earners who don’t have private hospital cover must also pay the Medicare Levy Surcharge of between 1% and 1.5% on top. Corporate taxes stand at 30%, however the government is pushing for this to be cut to 25% by 2025.

Japan: $351.6 Billion

Japan received $351.6 billion from its population of 127 million, according to the most recent figures. In 2017 the country’s ruling bloc approved a plan to cut the corporate tax rate from 30% to 20%, although only for companies that raise wages and increase capital spending. Japan has a progressive income tax system, with rates from 20% to 40%.

South Korea: $371.1 Billion

South Korea, which received $371.1 billion from its 51 million population, is undergoing huge changes this year as the country enacts a 2018 tax reform bill. Some of the changes include adding a new 25% corporate income tax bracket for taxable income in excess of $270 million, instead of the previous flat rate of 22%. Meanwhile the top income tax bracket has been increased from 40% to 42% for higher earners.

Spain: $412.4 Billion

With a population of 46.6 million, Spain generated tax receipts of $412.4 billion in 2016 according to the report. The country operates a sliding scale of income tax from 19% to 45%, while the general corporation tax rate is 25%. Meanwhile, residents of the Andalucia region had some good news this year, as it was announced changes to inheritance tax rules mean that the vast majority of children or spouses will not have to pay it anymore.

Canada: $491.1 Billion

The system of paying federal tax is simple in Canada: there is a sliding scale of 15% to 33% depending on how much you earn, however it gets a bit trickier when you need to add on provincial and territorial tax as the rate you pay depends on your income – and where you live. The rates vary dramatically from 4%, the lowest bracket in Nunavut, up to the highest bracket in Nova Scotia of 21%. The country’s population of 36.3 million brought in a total of $491.1 billion in 2016.

Italy: $792.8 Billion

Italy’s 60.6 million-strong population helped contribute to vast tax revenues of $792.8 billion. Italians pay personal income tax of between 23% to 43%, plus regional tax which is typically between 1.23% and 3.33%

United Kingdom: $869.4 Billion

The UK generated $869.4 billion in tax from its population of 65.6 million people, according to the OECD report. The UK uses a progressive income tax system, where those living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland pay between 20% and 45% tax, while those in Scotland pay 19% to 46% tax depending in their earnings. Residents must also pay National Insurance contributions too, which are 12%, although workers who earn more than $62,380 pay only 2% on earnings over that threshold. The Corporation Tax main rate is 19% but is set to be reduced to 17% in 2020.

France: $1,115.9 Billion

With a population of 66.9 million, France generated $1,115.9 billion in tax. However it will be interesting to see the results of dramatic tax cuts President Emmanuel Macron made in 2017, including slashing the contentious wealth tax effectively by 70% and introducing a 30% flat rate on capital gains.

Germany: $1,305.7 Billion

A combination of being the biggest economy in Europe, a population of 82 million and a relatively high taxation system means Germany has the second-largest tax revenue in the report at $1,305.7 billion. In addition to income tax, which varies from 14% to 45% for very high incomes, everyone has to pay solidarity tax, which is capped at 5.5% of an individual’s income tax. Also, if you’re a member of a church registered in Germany, you will also be required to pay a church tax of 8% or 9% of your income, depending on which federal state you live in.

United States: $4,846.3 Billion

The US tops the list in the report for having the highest level of tax revenues, with $4,846.3 billion tax generated from its population of 325.7 million. However with the US going through huge tax reforms this year under President Trump, it will be interesting to see the impact that has on those figures in future. Most analyses suggests that while the changes aren’t the biggest tax cuts the country has ever seen, the reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% is the biggest corporate tax cut in US history.

IL PHOTO

ZTE tests China’s commitment to international law

ZTE, a Chinese technology firm, has been hit with US sanctions that threaten to cripple the company. Two lessons can be drawn from this experience. First, that companies disregard US laws at their peril. Second, that a global supply chain is inherently risky and every effort should be made to promote nationally developed technology. It looks as though China will focus on the second. That is the wrong approach.

ZTE is China’s second-largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment, with a stock market value of $20 billion before its recent troubles. About 60 percent of its revenue comes from network business and 32 percent from consumer business. It is the fourth-largest seller of smartphones in the United States.

In Japan, it has partnered with Softbank and NTT Docomo, seeking to claim a 10 percent share of the SIM market. The company has about 200 employees in Japan, some of whom work at a Tokyo research and development center that is focused on 5G and other next-generation network technologies that Japan will roll out for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Reportedly, those facilities are too small and the company is planning to expand to accommodate between 500 to 600 engineers.

Those plans may now be on hold. Last year, the US Commerce Department wrapped up a two-year investigation of ZTE by concluding that it had violated US law by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company was charged with — and subsequently admitted to — violating US sanctions to obtain “hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts” with Iranian enterprises, including the government, from 2010 to 2016.

As a result, the US imposed a combined civil and criminal penalty and forfeiture of $1.19 billion on the company, the largest penalty ever levied in an export control case. In addition, ZTE agreed to a seven-year suspended denial of export privileges, which could come into effect if any aspect of the agreement was not met or if the company committed additional violations.

ZTE also said it would fire four senior employees and punish dozens of others who were involved. Earlier this month, it was discovered that ZTE had misled the US Commerce Department by making false statements, obstructing justice and “affirmatively misleading” the government in regard to those punishments. ZTE had dismissed the four senior employees as promised, but had not disciplined 35 others by either reducing their bonuses or reprimanding them.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was blunt: “ZTE misled the Department of Commerce. Instead of reprimanding ZTE staff and senior management, ZTE rewarded them. This egregious behavior cannot be ignored.”

This breach triggered the seven-year ban, along with a ruling that prohibits US companies from selling to ZTE for the same period of time. That, some analysts have concluded, could put the company out of business, since it is estimated that as much as 30 percent of the components in ZTE equipment originates in the U.S. Not only companies but financial institutions — in and out of the US — are going to consider ZTE to be radioactive and avoid doing business with the firm.

The US penalty is not ZTE’s only problem. Also this month, the head of Britain’s national cyber security center sent a letter to that country’s telecommunications organisations warning that “the national security risks arising from the use of ZTE equipment or services within the context of the existing UK telecommunications infrastructure cannot be mitigated.” Other governments should be similarly concerned.

ZTE called the US decision “unacceptable” and has sought to provide additional information to modify the US Commerce Department ruling.

The Chinese government also criticised US penalties against its companies, saying that it will protect the interests of Chinese firms and urged Washington to deal with the issue in accordance with the law.

That is the issue. ZTE agreed to accept a penalty and then lied about its implementation. Beijing should be worried that its companies disregard not only the law, but their promises to national legal authorities. Beijing agreed to sanctions against Iran and North Korea and ZTE’s actions undercut them. Beijing should have been pressing the company to comply with the trade restrictions, rather than outsourcing enforcement of its international obligations to Washington. This is a worrying indicator of Beijing’s thinking about the rule of law and how it will promote international peace and security.

China’s seeming indifference to those obligations is troubling, but more disturbing is the conclusion that the best course of action is to develop a high-tech industry that would make the country’s technology independent. China has plans to develop a national semiconductor industry to reduce foreign vulnerability. This is part of a larger plan to not only develop Chinese national champions across a range of cutting-edge technologies, but to insulate its economy from foreign pressure.

That is worrisome for many reasons, not least being the balkanisation of national communications markets, with competing standards and reduced interoperability. For Japanese companies whose supply chains span the Asia-Pacific, the prospect is harrowing.