What Would A Trump Victory Mean For UK Businesses Trading With The US?

07/11/2016 11:11

It's been a long time since trade was such a hot button topic when talking politics. Tip O'Neill, a former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, often used to say that "all politics is local" and, to an extent, that mind-set remains true today. In one of the most politically unpredictable years in recent history, trade is being used as a catch-all scapegoat for a range of local issues.

Whatever your stance on the UK's vote to leave the European Union earlier this year, or the success to date of Trump's campaign in the run up to the US presidential election, it is clear that the ramifications of such events on international trading agreements around the world could be immense.

As an economic commentator, I'm often asked how businesses that trade internationally are preparing themselves for these changes. To put it bluntly, they are not.

There is very little that UK businesses can do to counter an unpredictable change in their trading regime outside of the consolidation of investment and hunkering down in preparation for a rainy day. In reality, strategy is nigh-on impossible.

Donald Trump is representative of an effect for which there are significant difficulties in preparing a strategy. He is an enemy of international trade achieved through the NAFTA, TTIP and the TPP deals, and is set to take a combative stance with China on trade, currency manipulation, Asian territorial disputes and financial influence.

Moreover, his policy with respect to the USA's third largest trading partner, Mexico, is to build a wall separating the two.

The view of the investment community is that Trump would take the US economy into trade wars, which in turn could lead to panic or protracted uncertainty in asset markets. While we may see an initial hit to the US dollar from a Trump win, we predict a longer-term strengthening of the currency if the volatile Republican wins on November 8th. Why? The US dollar remains the ultimate haven currency. And whilst UK businesses exporting to the US will likely benefit as the USD strengthens and the pound remains at a 30 year low, those importing from the US will be subject to higher costs which are likely to be passed on to consumers.

However, it must be noted that Trump's ability to drastically alter the trading stance of the US may well be limited by the makeup of the 115th Congress. The Democrats must win four seats in order to regain control of the Senate and 31 to take back control of the House. Trump can bluster all he likes, but if Congress won't vote for his plans then his legislation will get tied up within the Committee.

For now, we - along with the UKs business leaders - must watch and wait for the results in under a week's time. The fallout over CETA, the reimagining of trade under Brexit, and the forthcoming political risk from elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany next year are all risks in their own right, but a Trump sanctioned trade war is the last thing the global business community needs.

Jeremy Cook, Chief Economist at World First

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