While the UK and Brussels wrangle over hard versus soft Brexits and the nature of future trade deals, Spain’s Basque business development agency, SPRI, has quietly opened an office in London, confident that it will be business as usual.
Regardless of whether the UK is in or out of the EU, the Basque Country cannot afford to turn its back on the country that accounted for €1.29bn of its exports in 2016, ranking fourth behind France, Germany and the US.
‘Brexit may be negative in the short term because of the uncertainty surrounding the process,’ says Pablo Fano, SPRI’s UK managing director. ‘But once the dust has settled the UK will continue to be a hugely important market offering key investment opportunities for Basque companies.’
Mr Fano explains that the Basque Country has for years had a thriving business relationship with the US, which ranks as its third biggest export market. ‘If our companies can do a profitable business in a country with a different currency and so complex a system of legislation as the US, it stands to reason that we will carry on working successfully with post-Brexit Britain,’ he says. ‘There are currently around 50 Basque companies active in the UK.’
SPRI has identified several specific sectors for investment in the UK, which it believes offer opportunities for Basque investors. The auto sector is high on the list. The automotive supplier Gestamp is currently investing £70m to build a new manufacturing facility at a site in Staffordshire. Gestamp also plans to build a new manufacturing facility in Four Ashes near Wolverhampton. The new plant expects to host state-of-the-art stamping equipment in its 50,000-square-metre site.
Other Basque investments are in the pipeline. Rolling stock manufacturer CAF plans to open a UK production plant by spring 2018. Chairman Andrés Arizkorreta says the company was seeking a rail-connected site where it can construct a 15,000-square-metre main building with an additional 10,000 square metres for stabling.
“We are committed to building up our presence in the UK,” he said. Earlier this year CAF was awarded a €740m rail contract by Eversholt and Arriva, followed by a €310m agreement with Eversholt and Beacon Rail to supply coaches, technical support and spare parts.
Mr Fano says investors are also exploring opportunities in the energy sector, especially in offshore windfarms, where Basque firms are already active. “We are also looking to expand investment in the aerospace industry and promote other areas, such as life sciences and new technologies,” he says.