The United Kingdom may be leaving the European Union, but it is still open for business — maybe even more than before.
That’s the message Michael Howells, the British government’s new consul general in Los Angeles, is emphasizing to Utah business people on his first visit to the Beehive State since being appointed to the diplomatic post four months ago.
He will speak at noon Tuesday at a diplomatic luncheon organized by World Trade Center Utah, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Salt Lake Chamber.
“If you sell into the British market, Brexit will not mean much to you,” Howells said Monday, referring to the nickname for Britain’s voter-driven withdrawal from the European Union economic system. “The market will still be there when we leave the EU. We’ll still be buying cars, wine, electronics and so on.”
If anything, he added, Brexit will open opportunities for more Utah companies to do business with their British counterparts as the UK distances itself from its European neighbors and seeks to establish or expand relations with other parts of the world.
Solid connections already exist. The United Kingdom is Utah’s top export destination. For the third quarter of 2017, Utah sent $716 million worth of goods to Britain, more than twice as much as went to the state’s second leading export recipient — Canada, at $300 million.
Most of that involved metals extracted from the Bingham Canyon mine by British-based Rio Tinto Corp., but there were significant export sums in other fields as well. Britain was the fourth largest recipient of exports from Utah’s life-sciences companies in that quarter, trailing only Canada, China and Mexico.
“For all intents and purposes trade with the UK is fairly easy, almost seamless,” said Franz Kolb, GOED’s director of diplomacy and protocol, citing the ease of a common language and similar national cultures.
“What I like about the relationship is it’s a matter of ‘you buy from us and we buy from you.’ They’re good trading partners,” Kolb said. “It’s not a one-way trade relationship.”
For instance, Howells’ Utah trip coincided with the opening of the Sundance Film Festival, in large part because a dozen independent movies produced with British government financial assistance are being shown there this year. He is using their screenings to tout the British film industry’s experience with all aspects of that business, from set design and costume manufacturing to writing, directing and editing.
Howells also is interested in getting to know more about Utah companies, such as ATK, that are involved in space exploration. The British government is eager to develop the capacity to launch small satellites, he added, noting “you have amazing companies that have been doing that research for years.”
Utah firms involved in solar-power research also could find customers in the UK, which is pursuing technology that doesn’t require a lot of direct sun exposure, a beneficial feature in often-cloudy Britain.
“The fundamental strengths of the British economy won’t change with Brexit,” Howells said. “We have a very predictable legal and regulatory environment, we follow the rule of law, we promote innovation and have research capacity, and are in a time zone important for doing business with both Asia and North America.”
GOED’s Kolb also is interested in enhancing connections with the British that involve the aerospace, defense and tourism industries.