A couple of Japanese expatriate business people with whom I was having lunch with recently both remarked how surprised they were that their British colleagues were quick to recover from the Brexit shock and think positively about the business opportunities it might bring. I too have been trying to be positive and have been doing some further research into how Japanese companies are evolving in the UK. The opportunities I have identified for Japanese companies in the UK are:
1. Africa and the Middle East
The UK has historic ties to Africa and the Middle East, which means that is still a good base for coordinating activities across those regions as there are many expatriates from and experts in those regions, who live in the UK, and are sources of information and management capability.
The UK government is going to be looking to boost trade to non-EU countries, as a counterbalance to any negative impact from Brexit on trade with the EU, so there is likely to be plenty of support for developing business with these regions.
It might even be easier than before to hire people from those regions in the UK. Although a vote for Brexit was partly to stop immigration to the UK, this was very much about preventing lower skilled people from Eastern Europe living in the UK. Most Japanese companies were not hiring such people in the first place, so I doubt any restrictions on this kind of immigration will have much impact.
Japanese financial services companies are already changing the status of non-UK branches to a European Union branch or incorporated subsidiary, and are strengthening their African operations, but it looks like those operations will still be reporting into the London office, which will act as an EMEA coordination function.
Japanese manufacturers have already shifted lower skilled, labour intensive production eastwards in Europe or to Africa and I assume Brexit will accelerate this trend, with the UK being a regional hub for engineering design and development expertise
Despite the fact that manufacturing has moved eastwards or south to Africa, the British government is well aware that British people desperately want well paid, secure manual worker jobs to return to the UK. The most obvious way to do this is through public sector investment in transportation and energy. Hitachi and other such infrastructure companies should still find plenty of business, although it is not clear what will happen to EU funding for energy and transport infrastructure projects.
3. Acquisitions in the UK
As Softbank’s acquisition of ARM proved, there are still companies in the UK which are attractive acquisition targets, not as a gateway to the Single Market but because they are unique in terms of their brand, technology or expertise. For example, food and drink brands unique to the UK, Lloyds underwriters and UK advertising agencies have all recently been acquired by Japanese companies. It seems likely the weak pound and strong yen will continue for a while, so there may be some bargains for the brave.
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