CEO Update

The importance of free and fair trade cannot be overstated

20 July 2018 #CEO Update

At the end of a week where plenty of column inches were devoted to votes, amendments, the risk of ‘no deal’ and strong views from both sides of the Brexit debate, Government’s White Paper on the UK leaving the EU still stands. It remains a welcome step forward in replicating some of the benefits of the single market and customs union for goods as we exit Europe, and a position for the new Brexit secretary to propose in his first talks with negotiators in Brussels.

Not up for negotiation is the importance of the automotive sector to our economy and jobs, and the need to ensure trade with our largest market, the EU, is without friction, tariffs or disruption to supply chains and just-in-time manufacturing. This can only be achieved by the avoidance of any customs checks or other barriers, and by ensuring that the UK and the EU continue to operate within the same regulatory framework.

Beyond our vital trade with the EU, membership of the bloc also enables us to enjoy advantageous trading relationships with 70 markets around the world, including key automotive export destinations such as Canada, South Korea and Turkey. This week Japan joined that list by signing the world’s largest bilateral trade agreement with the EU.

In the face of rising protectionism elsewhere, the deal highlights the appetite for free and fair trade between some of the largest economies in the world. Japanese brands have invested heavily over multiple decades to develop and build cars and engines in the UK, many for export to Europe. It throws into even sharper relief the importance of maintaining barrier free trade between the UK and EU after Brexit.

Our partnership with Japan has a rich and mutually beneficial history with potential to develop further as we move to the next generation of alternatively fuelled vehicles. Later this year, from 30 September to 2 October, SMMT will organise the UK pavilion at the Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition 31 (EVS31) taking place in Kobe.

This is one of the largest international exhibitions in the field of electric vehicles, making it an ideal place for companies to exhibit their latest technologies and research. Spaces on the pavilion are still available, with eligible exhibitors able to benefit from Department for International Trade (DIT) Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) grants of £2,500. For more information, contact

Mike Hawes, chief executive, SMMT

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