US trade delegation counters Brexit gloom

Mood is bullish among Rhode Island group as British business looks to America

us trade delegation

Rhode Island businessman Jeffrey Wyant, right, of Coast to Coast Fulfillment, Inc., on the first US trade delegation to organise a visit to the UK since the Brexit vote.

LONDON, ENGLAND — To US businessman Jeffrey Wyant, Brexit is just about the best thing that could happen. The owner of a Rhode Island distribution company is on the first US trade delegation to organise a visit to the UK since the June referendum- and the mood among participants is bullish.

“I am very excited. Brexit will be great for trade with the US,” said Mr Wyant, one of 15 business people and academics from the north-east US state who have visited London, most of them also heading on to Leeds.

“Why waste time on countries where you do not know the language when there is one that speaks English and is five-and-a-half times the size of the UK?” he said.

The good cheer of the Rhode Island delegation is a counter to gloom about the Brexit vote among many businesses and will encourage those who say closer economic links to the US can offset any loss to UK trade with EU states.

Mr Wyant’s Coast to Coast Fulfilment distributes products from lip gloss to sailboat parts for UK companies from facilities in Rhode Island and California and has already won a boost from the referendum’s market impact.

“The exchange rate works to our advantage. It has been a ve1y productive trip,” he said, adding that the cheaper pound had wiped out the effect of tariffs, while trade barriers on most products outside agriculture were minimal.

“There are a lot of misconceptions. It is very easy to get stuff into the US,” he said.

Stefan Pryor, Rhode Island’s secretary of commerce, said he never thought of cancelling the trip after the EU vote. The UK is the largest European trading partner for the state, which is home to Hasbro, the toy company, CVS, the pharmacy chain, and Brown University.

Finlays, the 266-year-old UK tea and coffee company, has just opened a factory in the state, which has earmarked millions of dollars in incentives for foreign investment.

Rhode Island can offer up to $7,500 in tax discounts per year per job, pay for research at local universities and repay up to $24,000 of graduate debt to those who work in tech companies for four years.

The UK’s regions can offer only a fraction of such largesse, since they must comply with EU state aid rules – for now at least.

Mr Pryor said that ahead of Brexit, UK companies were having to diversify trade away from the EU. This is an ideal time for Rhode Island to make its case.

RSM, the professional services firm, helped organise the trip and is already planning a return visit. “The US market presents a wealth of reciprocal trading and investment opportunities for Yorkshire firms, said Kevin O’Connor, regional managing partner for Yorkshire and the North East.

The US is a focus of government effort as it maps out a new trade strategy. Theresa May, prime minister, met Wall St. banks this week.

Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, is in Chicago trying to drum up investment in the “Midlands Engine”, a project aimed at boosting economic growth in the region.

A UK Department for International Trade spokeswoman said: “As we [negotiate our departure from the EU], we will be able to shape our own international trade and investment opportunities [and] drive even greater openness with international partners.”

Yet even the upbeat Mr Wyant does not claim that Brexit’s impact will be beneficial for all US-UK business links. He said he had met a UK logistics business on the trip that lost
a Rhode Island client because of the vote to leave the EU. “They wanted it as a base for the UK and the rest of Europe. Brexit killed that because of the new tariffs there could be.”

And despite his enthusiasm for the UK, domestic market opportunities make Mr. Wyant anxious to get home. His company is busy handling all the campaign merchandise for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid- amounting to 8o,ooo items a week and including the Grillary Clinton barbecue apron and spatula.