Oct 22, 2019
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Harrods, other luxury brands, launch US trade mission as tariffs bite, Brexit looms

Oct 22, 2019

A number of UK luxury brands have started a four-day trade mission to the US. It comes as the trade war between Donald Trump and the EU hits home with new tariffs being imposed this month.

UK luxury is in the US this week as it seeks to bolster trade relations post-Brexit

But the charm offensive was organised before the new US tariffs were imposed as British business seeks to mitigate the impact of Brexit. It includes Harrods, Molton Brown, Savile Row tailor Kathryn Sargent, sustainable footwear brand Mou, the world’s oldest hat shop Lock & co, and Scottish woollen mill/retailer Johnston’s of Elgin (which also manufactures for Burberry and Hermès). 

Harrods’ involvement is almost a given as its managing director, Michael Ward, is chairman of luxury trade body Walpole that’s leading the mission. Walpole represents 250 British luxury names.

The group is part of an attempt to bolster UK-US trade relations, an attempt that has become especially urgent in the face of 25% tariffs that have been imposed by the US. 

The duties have been slapped on categories including men’s woollen suits, one of the key exports for the British luxury segment, as well as cashmere knitwear.

The tariffs have been applied in response to EU subsidies for Airbus that have been ruled illegal. However, the EU’s top trade official has already said that Europe is considering its own response, citing the US’s subsidies to Boeing.

The problem for Britain in particular is that good relations with the US are key to it as Brexit looms. While the EU is the country’s biggest export market and with UK-EU trade likely to suffer, even with an exit deal, the US (as the second largest export destination) becomes more important. And in terms of individual countries, it's the biggest export market for British goods overall. So the UK will be looking to add to the £9 billion+ worth of goods that already go there. 

The trade mission’s participants are meeting with business leaders and senior officials at meetings in Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. They’ll also be whipping up interest in Britain as a tourist destination with US visitors being a key group for the UK tourist sector and for the retailers in destination cities like London, York and Edinburgh as well in key attractions like Bicester Village.

Walpole has organised a huge number of events for the four-day mission. Tuesday’s agenda in New York City, for instance, is a focus on The Art of British Luxury Hospitality, featuring 26 expert speakers, followed by afternoon tea with Dame Glenda Bailey, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, at Hearst Tower. It ends with a cocktail party at the Lyanness pop-up at Spring Place, hosted with Quintessentially.

Walpole CEO Helen Brocklebank said in an interview with CNN Business that the UK had an "unfair focus" in the US's new EU-focused tariffs, given how big its trade with the US is compared to other EU countries.

And Kathryn Sargent, the tailor who’s part of the mission, said that the new tariffs could make her cheapest two-piece suit around $1,625 more expensive in the US, which would be likely to make some customers think twice about buying.

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