Free Trade with Florida

The UK signed an MOU with Florida

Stymied by the inability to reach a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., the UK reaches out to the individual states

Britain’s post-Brexit pursuit of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States to diversify markets outside Europe was marked by anticipation and complex negotiations in 2020. Despite initial optimism, however, negotiations stalled and the endeavor failed. So, the United Kingdom pivoted to a state-level approach.

Historically, economic ties between Florida and the UK have been robust, tracing back to when British tourists (now ranked #2 in international tourists to Florida) began spending their holidays at Disney World. Today, the relationship has evolved into a dynamic landscape of business collaborations and strategic investments.

The United Kingdom is the state’s top foreign direct investment (FDI) source, with a total of $18 billion as of 2020. British-affiliated companies employed more Floridians than companies from any other foreign country, accounting for 77,200 jobs at the turn of the decade. “I think part of it is that Florida is pretty open for business, whereas a lot of other places have had more restrictive regulations, especially during the pandemic,” says British-native David Archer, President of the British American Business Council and attorney for Hinshaw & Culbertson. “We’ve seen a lot of new businesses coming into South Florida from the UK, and from everywhere. Really, Miami’s booming.”

Sharing a common language, daily eight-hour direct flights, and a large British expatriate community are all factors that have contributed to a resilient economic relationship between Florida and the UK. Therefore, it made sense to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the state after the negotiations for an F TA failed. The UK has already signed MoUs with Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah, and is currently negotiating with California, Colorado, Illinois, Texas, and “we’re doing our biggest and best one yet [with] Florida,” said the UK Consul General in Miami, Rufus Drabble.

As the UK seeks new avenues for growth and diversification post-Brexit, Miami (vs. Florida) has itself become an increasingly attractive option, thanks to the city’s focus on promoting itself as a start-up hub.

“The UK has a strong reputation in innovation and tech companies, and we’re seeing more of that cross-pollination between the UK and South Florida,”

Says Tansy Jefferies, tax advisor for RSM and treasurer of the British American Business Council.

In April, during an international trade tour, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis met with the UK’s Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch. Discussing the MoU was not initially on the agenda, but after a private meeting between Badenoch and Gov. DeSantis, the commitment to a MoU was solidified.

That UK meeting was followed with a visit to Florida in July by British trade envoy Sir Conor Burns. Alongside Enterprise Florida (now Select Florida), they visited multiple cities (including Miami), meeting with industry leaders across sectors ranging from aerospace to health sciences. Sir Burns emphasized the importance of the MoU, saying, “This is our priority. We want to make sure that this MoU is a staple for other MoUs, where it sets the tone and the momentum – given that Florida is already such a big trading partner.”

On November 14th, the MoU between the UK and Florida was officially signed in Jacksonville, virtually eliminating trade barriers. As Business Council President Archer aptly put it, “I don’t think there’s any reason why [cooperation between Florida and the UK] can’t and won’t continue. We’re just living in a more global and interconnected world, where Miami is really a hub.”

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