15 April, 2019

Minister aims to reassure Japan over trade after Brexit

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt is seeking to reassure Toyota that the UK Government remains focused on avoiding a no-deal exit from the European Union.

‘We recognise that Japan has many investments employing hundreds of thousands of people in the UK. We want strong cooperation to continue,’ Hunt told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The minister visited a Toyota plant in Japan as part of his tour, a move designed to instil confidence that the government is thinking about the carmaker, and the automotive industry in general, when it comes to Brexit planning.

Toyota builds the Corolla and Avensis models in Burnaston, UK, and recently announced the production of a model for Suzuki at the plant, although this would not require investment or a recruitment process.

Japan is one of Britain’s biggest foreign investors, building cars and products in a country it sees as a gateway to the broader European market. Business leaders have been vocal about their hopes for continued free trade between the UK and EU following Brexit, especially with a new European trade agreement with the Asian market in place.

Turbulent times

Hunt’s reassurances come during a rocky period for Japanese carmakers in the UK. Nissan cancelled plans to build its X-Trail model in Sunderland, pulling investment that it had promised following the country’s EU referendum. The carmaker will continue to build other models at the plant.

Honda, meanwhile, will close its Swindon plant as it looks to focus on electric and hybrid technologies. While the carmaker has stated that Brexit played no part in its decision, with a factory in Turkey also closing, the potential of a no-deal scenario would not have helped investment decisions.

Toyota has bucked the trend. The company’s partnership with Suzuki will see an additional model built at Burnaston, suggesting the carmaker has no plans to reduce its presence in Britain. The Foreign minister must hope that such a move will highlight to others that Japanese companies can still trade with confidence in the UK.

SMMT call

With the Government negotiating a longer extension to its withdrawal from the European Union, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders recently said that the continued political wrangling around the situation was ‘utterly unacceptable’ and that carmakers in the country are suffering as a result.

Various manufacturers have begun plant shutdowns, designed to minimise disruption after the initial deadline of 29 March, with the moves now costing them valuable free-trading time. Other manufacturers have poured finances into contingency funds and rushed to set-up new supply chain paths, moves that are now rendered useless due to the new 31 October deadline.

Brexit – what should the UK do? is the Autovista Group’s latest survey question. Have your say here.