Tue | Nov 24, 2020

JP, JN scouting for Brexit opportunities

Published:Friday | February 14, 2020 | 12:12 AMNeville Graham - Business Reporter

Jeffrey Hall, managing director of Jamaica Producers Group.
Jeffrey Hall, managing director of Jamaica Producers Group.

T wo name brand Jamaican companies, one a food and logistics conglomerate, another a financial group, are holding steadfast to their operations in the United Kingdom, UK, even as the uncertainty persists around trade in the post-Brexit era.

The UK quit the European Union at the end of January, but will have 11 months, subject to extension, to unravel itself fully from the bloc and set the terms for negotiating new trading relations.

Just two Jamaican companies were prepared to go on record with their outlook on business in the UK – Jamaica Producers Group Limited and Jamaica National Group – both of which indicated they anticipate challenges ahead but still had a desire to keep the link.

“On the whole, we see no reason to pull back in any way from the UK, and we remain very committed to developing business here,” said Jamaica Producers CEO Jeffrey Hall in a telephone interview from London, where he was scouting opportunities.

But he also sounded a note of caution.

“It’s still early days, because the trade regime that the UK will have with the rest of Europe has not yet been settled,” he said.

Hall says Jamaica Producers, which has links with the British and European economy through shipping and logistics, along with food, is watching key indicators, such as the exchange rates ‘which are somewhat volatile’.

“We’re also watching the expression of the UK government to enter into a range of free-trade arrangements and business-stimulus programmes that could create new opportunities in the UK,” he said, noting that there is also the potential adverse impact on economic growth from impediments to trade and labour movement with Europe.

One other conglomerate contacted for comment declined to be included for this story.

GraceKennedy, which manufactures and distribute in the UK market, declined to comment for this story. Executives of Victoria Mutual Group, a financial services group which has a building society at the heart of its operation, did not return calls for comment.

Its larger and one-time direct rival, JN Group – which three years ago gave up its building society status in favour of a commercial bank – says, however, that its operation has been steady throughout the events leading up to Brexit, citing strong loyalty to the JN brand among its clientele as one of the stabilising factors.

It’s what comes next that’s concerning, says Dr Dana Morris Dixon, chief marketing and business development officer for JN Group.

Because of those unknowns, JN is constantly in watch mode, continuously assessing Brexit developments.

“Similar to other businesses, we are watching carefully how the current uncertainty over the kind of trade deal the UK will strike with the EU may affect the UK economy and Britons generally,” Morris Dixon said.

But both JN Group and JP say, albeit from different perspectives, they are alive to opportunities that may present themselves in the transition period.

“If we see growth potential in the UK, we will organise ourselves to invest more; if the UK organises itself on a dynamic path for growth through a more flexible and autonomous government arrangement, we’re in,” Hall said.

Morris Dixon sees the potential for new services as the UK looks to cement strategic partnerships in the region and elsewhere.

“For example, Britain recently implemented a fast-track immigration regime for certain professionals. These thrusts present opportunities on which we can capitalise to provide, for instance, outsourcing services that will create economic prospects for us in the Caribbean,” she said.

At the same time, she added, the JN Group continues to assess the impact any fallout the ongoing uncertainties may have on the business in the UK.

For its part, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, PIOJ, says it is watching the situation at this time. Its last take on Europe was that its “economic fundamentals remain solid, growth is anticipated, despite uncertainty with regard to ongoing Brexit negotiations”.

On Thursday, the agency’s head of communications Gwyneth Davidson relayed that the assessment remains the same, as all the objective conditions are, for the moment, unchanged while the full separation negotiations continue between the EU and the UK.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com