Trade and Investment News: May

Brexit and Saudi Arabia

 On 31st March 2024, The Sunday Times published an article by columnists, Jim Armitage and John Arlidge, on “The strange world of doing deals in Saudi” with the  strapline , “Bosses flocking to the Kingdom are swapping tips on how to thrive”.

The article describes how in its own special way Saudi Arabia continues to open up to trade with the West and how modernising tendencies are interacting with traditional cultural values in the country in a very real but carefully controlled manner. According to the UK Government, UK business certainly seems to be embracing the opportunities presented by these phenomena.

It may be worth, therefore, looking at some statistics relating to recent UK – Saudi trade and investment.

According to a UK Department for Business & Trade (DBT) Trade and Investment factsheet ( one of a regular series)  published on 21st March 2024, total trade in goods and services (exports plus imports) between the UK and Saudi Arabia was £17.4 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q3 ( Quarter 3) 2023, an increase of 17.6% or £2.6 billion in current prices from the four quarters to the end of Q3 2022. Of this £17.4 billion:

  • Total UK exports to Saudi Arabia amounted to £12.7 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q3 2023 ( an increase of 20.0% or £2.1 billion in current prices, compared to the four quarters to the end of Q3 2022); and
  • Total UK imports from Saudi Arabia amounted to £4.7 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q3 2023 ( an increase of 11.5% or £487 million in current prices, compared to the four quarters to the end of Q3 2022).

The DBT factsheet showed that Saudi Arabia was the UK’s 24th largest trading partner in the four quarters to the end of Q3 2023 accounting for 1.0% of total UK trade.

According to the factsheet, whilst no statistics were available for the inward stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the UK from Saudi Arabia, the outward stock of FDI from the UK in Saudi Arabia was £5.1 billion accounting for 0.3% of the total outward FDI stock.

It seems that these figures are likely to improve.


Brexit and the World of Classical Music

The UK has left the EU but it has not left the world stage – nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of classical music where the UK, including London, continues to put on events of great value, attracting artists of international renown.

Examples of this include the concert which took place at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 6th April 2024  where the London Philharmonic  Orchestra performed works by Stravinsky and Bruckner , under the baton of the highly acclaimed Estonian conductor, Paavo Jarvi, and ( in the case of the Stravinsky violin concerto) with the participation of  the warmly regarded violinist, Leila Josefowicz.

On 7th April 2024,  a  recital entitled  “Mortal Wounds” ( a phrase taken from a poem by Justinus Kerner, set to music by Robert Schumann in the latter’s 1840 music cycle) took place at the Wigmore Hall in London. The performers were baritone, Theodore Platt, and pianist, Keval Shah,  and the  programme notes described the  recital as “ a musical meditation on fascism, racism and injustice” and the pain that they all bring.  The recital revolved around poems set to music , which were sung in their original languages ,being German, French or English, as the case may be, and the composers included Robert Schumann from Germany, Francis Poulenc from France and a host of famed composers from the English-speaking world. The “Mortal Wounds” can  never be healed and the events that caused them can never be redressed but the music and poetry should at least ensure that they will be mourned and remembered for a very long time.

The UK’s place in the cultural world needs to be cherished, regardless of Brexit.


Brexit and the “Entente Cordiale”

8th April 2024 marked 120 years since the “Entente Cordiale” was entered into between the UK and France and, to mark the occasion, the French Garde Republicaine performed a marching ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London and soldiers from  a number of British regiments took part in a similar ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh in London and President Macron in Paris.

In a leader editorial on the same day to mark the occasion, The Times was not only supportive of the existing entente but called for it to be upgraded , on the basis that this is necessary to deal with “the threats of a troubled world” or, to be more specific , “a renewed entente is needed not only for closer co-operation  on migration and climate change but also to strengthen the stabilising influence of Europe’s two nuclear powers in a fractious and uncertain age”.

A former French diplomat, Francois- Joseph Schichan, writing in the Times on 9th April 2024 about post-Brexit Britain in an EU context,  commented that there is space for the UK  “to intensify bilateral  contacts with EU institutions and individual member states on security and foreign policy”.  Indeed, M. Schichan’s article is headed “Post-Brexit Britain is just as strong”  which, whilst a little enigmatic, does bring into focus the question of what more France ( and the wider EU) and the UK can yet do to reinforce their relationship with each other.

Perhaps somewhat coincidentally but interestingly, “City AM” published an article in its edition of 10th April 2024 by guest – writer , Ollie Ryan Tucker, entitled “Britain needs assertive foreign policy  – not apologias for Brexit and colonialism”. This is  perhaps a reaction to some of the alarming political events going on in the World about which  western democracies like the UK and France  need to take note and take appropriate action.

On 11th April 2024, The Times published an article by regular columnist, James Marriott, entitled “Can we rekindle our love affair with France?”  The answer surely is “Yes, we can!”.


Brexit and Trade and Investment in a Time of War

 On 16th April 2024,The Times reported on the results of a survey by Santander  of 1,025  £1million + income per annum -generating  UK businesses ,  on supply chain trends.

According to the survey, almost a third of UK businesses have plans to bring supply chains closer to home , or shift them to allied nations, as geopolitical tensions drive fresh rounds of “friendshoring”. This seems to be at least partly the result of feelings of uncertainty generated by wars such as those between Russia and Ukraine and between Israel and its enemies in the Middle East . It is also reported  that one of the survey findings is that about one in four UK firms that have parts of their supply chain in China intend to restructure their production away from China – this seems to be a result of growing international tensions in the Far East involving China.

Paradoxically, The Times article also reports on increased business confidence in the UK encouraged by falling inflation and expectations for interest rate cuts. The article comments that the UK businesses seem increasingly confident about generating more income from abroad “after years of Brexit uncertainty”. This is backed up by new forecasts from the International Monetary Fund which predict that in 2025 the UK will be the fastest-growing major economy in Europe.

The times seem to be a’changing!

Brexit and the EU’s Proposed  EU-UK Youth Mobility Scheme

On 18th April 2024, the EU Commission announced in a press release  that it had that day proposed to the Council of the EU the opening of negotiations with the UK on an agreement to facilitate youth mobility. According to the press release, such an agreement would make it easier for young EU and UK citizens to study, work and live in the UK and the EU respectively.

First  indications are that the UK Government is not happy with the proposal  because it  allegedly seeks to re-introduce a form of “freedom of movement “ between the EU and the UK, which was contrary to the objectives of Brexit, but that the UK remains open to commencing negotiating youth mobility schemes  with individual EU member states on a country by country basis .

Let us see what happens!