IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Europe is in a state of flux at present. British people recently decided that they should leave the European Union – now known as Brexit – and the latest book from Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests that the Euro currency will tear the rest of the union apart.

In this uncertain environment, does the old idea of European nearshoring still work? There are many countries within the EU block and part of Western Europe that now have very high unemployment and low labour costs – look at Greece, Portugal, and Spain for examples. Is it still valid to think of Eastern Europe as a supplier of technology skills to the rest of Europe?

I was thinking about some of these uncertainties when I read an article on the GSA Sourcing Focus site. The article explores some of the issues around Brexit and how it might affect outsourcing relationships.

The three main issues mentioned by Sourcing Focus are:

1.    The cheap pound; it’s no longer so cheap to buy services from outside the UK so with the economic advantage eroded will more UK companies buy services locally or look beyond Europe for better value?
2.    Legal situation – data transfers; The UK enjoys the protection of the entire EU regarding company law and international agreements protecting issues such as data privacy across borders. How will this change if the country has to legislate for every possible situation individually?
3.    GDP collapse; if the UK becomes a much smaller economy as many economists suggest then how will this affect the relationship between UK companies and suppliers across Europe? It doesn’t look good.

The fears raised by Sourcing Focus are valid. It’s clear that the UK market in international services could change dramatically in the next few years, but I think that it is premature to start defining issues just yet. The UK government has not even triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty yet. This would indicate the formal request to leave the EU and begins a two-year process of negotiating how to leave.

At present the situation is that the UK population voted to leave the EU and the government has said that they will follow the wish of the people, however they are now engaged in a process of negotiation before any formal negotiation begins. Nobody really knows what will happen to the UK at present.

The issue for UK companies at present is this uncertainty. Any UK company bidding for business internationally cannot predict what kind of tariffs or taxes might be applied to their services in a few years and therefore they are at a disadvantage. This could lead to a reduction in international services being delivered from the UK and therefore it could be advantageous for Eastern Europe, but if UK customers suffer in this environment and they are already working with suppliers in the CEE region then this would not be such a great situation.

The real problem now is the uncertainty. The UK government should take action as quickly as possible so that however this story plays out, at least there is more certainty about how the UK will interact with the rest of Europe in future.

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