A spring in the step of the Prancing Horse

Ferrari goes from strength to strength

The UK may have entered a double dip recession but that doesn’t seem to have impeded the spring in the step of the Prancing Horse.

While the rest of us are counting the pennies and praying the motor gets through its next MoT, luxury car brand Ferrari goes from strength to strength.

Perhaps the super rich, put off philanthropy by the Government’s tax shenanigans, have decided to splash out on 200 grand sports cars instead.

Ferrari grew UK sales by 31 per cent in the first quarter of the year with 177 models delivered to customers. This performance outstripped encouraging results in other markets, which saw sales rise 16 per cent in the USA, 24 per cent in Germany and 23 per cent in the Middle East.

Overall, revenues were up 13 per cent to 556m Euro with net profit leaping 17 per cent to 42m Euro.

Ferrari said the success resulted from enthusiasm for the 12-cylinder FF, the continuing popularity of the 8-cylinder California, its top selling GT, and demand for the coupe and spider versions of the 458 sports car. Ferrari pointed out that the F12 Berlinetta, its most powerful ever model and the first in a new generation of V12s made no contribution to the first quarter results as deliveries do not start until the second half of the year.

In its native Italy however, the Fiat-owned marque suffered a downturn, selling 121 cars – a drop of 34 per cent compared to thefirst quarter of 2011.

Ferrari blamed this on the economic situation and "the local government’s recent financial initiatives". A clampdown on tax fraud coupled with a hike in car taxes have curbed the traditional Italian enthusiasm for high performance sports cars.

Ferrari has expanded its retail network in the UK with prestige car dealers JCT600 and HR Owen opening new showrooms this year.

James Dallas is deputy editor of What Van?

Photograph: Getty Images

James Dallas is deputy editor of What Van?

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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.