Trade and Investment News April: Trade Dilemmas, Human Rights, and Media Regulations

Brexit and China

The UK and other Western countries do not seem to know whether to love or hate communist China from a trade and investment point of view.

One of the latest examples is the concern felt by governments in the UK and in the EU  ( as well as the US) about imports of cheap electrical vehicles (EVs) from China.  According to an article by Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times on 3rd March 2024, the UK and the West are considering or in some cases putting in place tariffs on such imports, even though EVs are regarded as much more environmentally friendly than traditional petrol -run vehicles. The competing priorities between trade and investment supporters and supporters of the environment could not be starker!

Let us examine trade and investment statistics between the UK and China in more detail. A factsheet  ( one of a regular series ) published by the UK’s Department for Business &Trade ( DBT) on 22nd February 2024 showed that total trade in goods and services ( exports plus imports) between the UK and China was £100.9 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q3 ( Quarter 3) 2023, a decrease of 4.8% or £5.1 billion in current prices from the four quarters to the end of Q3 2022.Of the £100.9 billion:

  • Total UK exports to China amounted to £37.5 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q3 2023 ( an increase of 11.9 % or £4 billion in current prices , compared to the four quarters to the end of Q3 2022); and
  • Total UK imports from China amounted to £63.5 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q3 2023 ( a decrease of 12.6% or £9.1 billion in current prices, compared to the four quarters to the end of Q3 2022).

The DBT factsheet revealed that China was the UK’s 5th largest trading partner in the four quarters to the end of Q3 2023, accounting for 5.7% of total UK trade.

The factsheet also showed that in 2021, the outward stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) from the UK in China was £10.7 billion , accounting for 0.6% of the total UK outward FDI stock and that, in the same year, the inward stock of FDI in the UK from China was £5.0 billion, accounting for 0.3% of the total UK inward FDI stock.

Mixed messages for the UK -China trade and investment relationship in the post-Brexit era, exacerbated almost certainly by international political tensions!

Brexit and the Late M. Robert Badinter

On 7th March 2024, The Times published an obituary of French lawyer and former French justice minister, Robert Badinter, who died on 9th February 2024 aged 95.

M.Badinter promoted legislation to abolish the death penalty in France in 1981 and The Times reported that at the time that the legislation was passed,  there were seven convicts on death row but “tomorrow, thanks to you , France’s justice will no longer be a justice that kills”, M. Badinter reportedly told the French Parliament.

Apart from his work on abolishing the death penalty in France, the obituary noted that as a lawyer, socialist senator and member of France’s Constitutional Court , Robert Badinter was instrumental in abolishing special state and military courts that operated outside the normal French legal system , lowering the age of consent for homosexual relations to the same age as for heterosexual relations, improving prison conditions and giving French citizens recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. He also helped bring to justice Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyons”, and he  assisted Slovenia and Croatia to secure their independence following Yugoslavia’s collapse. He also campaigned against antisemitism and pursued Holocaust deniers.

President Macron of France  reportedly described Robert Badinter as “the conscience of the nation” and in England  Shakespeare would have recognised him as one of those for whom ( in Portia’s words)  “ the quality of mercy is not strained – it droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven upon the place beneath”.

Such individuals transcend national borders!

Brexit and a Concert to Celebrate Suppressed Music of the Nazi Era

London is one of the World’s greatest classical concert  musical centres and the Wigmore Hall is one of the UK capital’s most intimate and iconic classical musical venues.

On 9th March 2024, the Nash Ensemble, a chamber music orchestra which has been associated with the Wigmore Hall for many years, performed a concert, entitled “ Terezin – Theresienstadt”, which was dedicated to the artists and to the music performed in the Terezin Ghetto 1941-1945. The concert was performed under the patronage of the Czech Ambassador to the United Kingdom and was intended to celebrate in particular the work of artists sent to Terezin but who were subsequently transported by the Nazis to Auschwitz towards the end of the Second World War.

The excellent programme notes from the  concert quoted the words of one of the suppressed music composers, Victor Ullmann, who wrote while in Terezin ( aka Theresienstadt)  that “ Theresienstadt has served to enhance, not impede, my musical activities, that by no means did we sit  weeping by the waters of Babylon and our will to create was equal to our will to live”. A bitter-sweet comment, particularly given Victor Ullmann’s subsequent death in Auschwitz.

The programme also included a piece by the 19th century Czech composer, Bedrich Smetana, who lived and  died long before the Second World War. The link to Terezin is that the musicians of Terezin managed to put on there 35 performances of Smetana’s opera, “The Bartered Bride”. As Richard Morrison, The Times reviewer of the Nash Ensemble concert, wrote of Terezin in this context, “Truly an astonishing place, as well as hell on earth”.

For many, the EU has been seen as a positive attempt to ensure that the flame of those who strove for their artistic life in Auschwitz will never be extinguished and that Europe will be free from autocratic tyranny in the future. A never-ending battle!

That London was able to host such a wonderful concert in 2024 hopefully  illustrates the UK ‘s continuing commitment  to human rights in Europe, regardless of the UK’s political status within Europe.

An optimistic note both for Europe and the World, in dark times!

Brexit and the European Media Freedom Act  (“the Act”)

On 13th March 2024, the European Parliament reportedly formally adopted its first reading position on the proposal for a Regulation establishing a common framework for media services in the EU internal market and amending EU Directive 2010/13/EU.

Reportedly, the Act ( if and when passed)  will introduce a new set of rules to promote media pluralism and independence across the EU. It will aim to prevent political interference in editorial decisions and ensure transparency of media ownership. The Act will also seek to protect journalists from having to disclose their sources and from the use of spyware against them and will set requirements for audience measurement systems and the transparent allocation of state advertising.

Meanwhile, on 14th March 2024, The Times reported that the UK Government had put forward an amendment to its Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill to stop foreign powers owning British newspapers, in a move that was seen as likely to block the sale of The Telegraph to a company backed by funding from the United Arab Emirates.

Interesting times!