The United Kingdom is an important trading partner for North Carolina, so the ultimate nature of the U.K.’s exit from the European Union could have consequences for the state.
That was one point that Andrew Terrell emphasized in a talk he gave Monday to a roomful of business, education and local government leaders in Wilmington City Council Chambers at City Hall. Terrell, the new U.K. Consul for Government & Prosperity and head of the new U.K. Government Office in Raleigh, made his presentation under the auspices of Wilmington’s Foreign Trade Promotion Council (FTPC).
In introducing Terrell, FTPC executive director John Hayes said that 34,000 jobs in North Carolina are directly related to British firms. Because of Wilmington’s port, airport and Foreign Trade Zone, the area’s business community can have an international impact, he said.
Terrell added a few more specifics, saying that in 2016, $1.3 billion of North Carolina goods were exported to the United Kingdom. That same year, 14,500 North Carolina jobs were supported by exports to the U.K.
“North Carolina is a key state for the U.K.,” he said.
Terrell gave his audience a brief recap of the Brexit process and milestones, starting with the referendum vote in June 2016 that launched the U.K.’s journey toward separation. He emphasized that the Brexit is a process for which there are rules and encouraged attendees to “not get caught up in political drama.”
As part of that process, Britain is focusing internally as well as externally, looking at its supply chain, according to Terrell, who added that individual businesses also are examining their supply chains and have improved their efficiencies, strengthening both exporting and non-exporting businesses in the country.
U.K. officials are also listening to its business community to learn what has alienated them from the business environment that exists now with the E.U. One major complaint, Terrell said, is the unequal distribution of resources, which has left some of the country’s former manufacturing centers at a disadvantage.
The U.K. will also look at bolstering its fundamentals, such as education and workforce development, and aiming to be “best in class” in industries where it has clear strengths, Terrell said. Forging good bilateral trade deals is central to ensuring prosperity for an economically independent Britain, he explained, adding that the U.S. and the U.K. each has a $3 trillion investment in the other.
“I believe North Carolina is poised to get a bigger share of that $3 trillion,” he said, saying further that the two countries’ mutual trade “can only be strengthened through a free trade agreement. There is interest in robust trade deals. We’ve been having scoping discussions [with the U.S.] for the past year and a half, looking at opportunities and risks.”
Terrell said that U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have been “very receptive” in those talks.
The changes in rules governing U.S.-U.K. trade resulting from Brexit could open up opportunities – and challenges – for North Carolina, said Adam Jones, associate professor of economics at University of North Carolina Wilmington. Jones, who attended the FTPC event, pointed to agriculture as as area in which new regulations could have a positive impact.
“For the more urban areas, the coast, [Brexit] will not have such a big effect,” he said after Terrell’s talk Monday. “[Brexit] will be less of an issue for companies in Wilmington.”
Terrill will speak about Brexit and its possible outcomes again Monday evening at 6 p.m. at the New Hanover County Library in downtown Wilmington. The talk is free of charge and open to the public.