Walpole Wants to Build Bridges Amid U.K. and U.S. Tariff War

With nerves of steel and a talent for travel and international trade woven tight into their DNA, the British are set to land in Manhattan on Monday, and are prepared to do business despite a spate of new U.S. tariffs and continued Brexit uncertainty.

Walpole, the sector body for the luxury industry, is embarking on its third annual trade mission to New York, led by Michael Ward, chairman of the body and managing director of Harrods and Walpole’s chief executive officer Helen Brocklebank. Johnstons of Elgin, Molton Brown, Kathryn Sargent, The Savoy, The Corinthia and Heathrow VIP are among the 18 fashion, accessories and travel brands taking part this year.

Trade relations are rocky between the two nations, with the U.S. pinning 25 percent tariffs on a slew of British luxury goods, from wool and cashmere sweaters, to men’s suits to whisky, due to a long-running dispute between the U.S. and the European Union over Boeing and Airbus subsidies.

The tariffs came into effect on Oct. 18, and have hit British luxury particularly hard. The U.S. is the second largest export market for British luxury goods behind Europe, according to a Walpole and Frontier Economics report, with 23 percent of the U.K.’s high-end exports destined for North America.

While Walpole’s past two trips have been dominated by speculation about Brexit and future trade deals, the power of the weaker pound and America’s fashion-loving British royal, the Duchess of Sussex, this one is taking place against a whole new backdrop.

“It’s certainly a different landscape now but, if anything, that just makes us redouble our efforts in the U.S. Seventy-five percent of our members identify the U.S. as a key growth market for the next five years,” said Charlotte Keesing, Walpole’s director of corporate affairs and international.
“We have a very strong mandate for focusing on the U.S., supporting our members’ businesses based in the market, and driving tourism from the U.S. as well,” Keesing added.

With regard to tariffs, she said “all sides are working to try to de-escalate. Nobody wants a trade war, it doesn’t benefit anybody.”
As reported, the UKFT, which lobbies on behalf of the U.K. fashion and textile industry, now wants the British government to subsidize brands affected by the tariffs.

Some 17 fashion and textile product lines spanning sweaters made of wool, cashmere, cotton or man-made fibers, as well as women’s anoraks, men’s suits, pajamas, swimwear, blankets and bed linens, will now attract the additional 25 percent duty.

UKFT has argued that the measures will affect 35 million pounds worth of British exports, and companies will be facing an extra 8.8 million pounds in tariffs.

Walpole’s four-day mission to New York will include a celebratory lunch at The Metropolitan Museum of Art to honor Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus, the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., and a series of trade-focused events with American bankers, retailers, investors, editors and marketeers. The 18 Walpole brands plan to host showroom events, too, and there will be a half-day forum at The Whitby Hotel aimed at promoting the British hospitality industry.

Brands will attend a luxury market briefing at J.P. Morgan, with speakers including Andrew Goldberg, global head of market strategy and advice, and Marigay McKee of MM Luxe.

Glenda Bailey will host a roundtable afternoon tea at Hearst Tower, while the Brits will also tour the new Neiman Marcus store at Hudson Yards. Brands will showcase their wares at The Glasshouses on West 25th Street, while the British Consul General, Antony Phillipson, will host a cocktail at his private residence.

Lauder will be honored for his contribution to promoting the trading relationship between the U.K. and the U.S., and will receive an award for excellence designed for the occasion by the London jeweler, Garrard.

Walpole plans to release a specially commissioned research report providing insights into the British luxury landscape, highlighting what’s new and how British luxury brands can connect with Gen Z consumers in today’s digital world.

The trip is backed by partners including the Great Britain and Ireland Campaign, the U.K. Department for International Trade and VisitBritain, which promotes tourism.

Keesing said among the trip’s key objectives is developing export and trade opportunities, and helping brands build commercial relationships.

“Last year we delivered something like 750,000 pounds in trade deals with 250,000 pounds in the pipeline under discussion. I would hope that we would be on that plane back to London knowing that there are several further trade wins under discussion that would come fruition within the next six to 12 months,” she said.

She added that another objective is to raise the profile of British luxury in the U.S. and for the brands to build media awareness, relationships and coverage. Walpole is also looking to attract more U.S. visitors to the U.K.“There are already 3.9 million U.S. visitors who come to the U.K. every year and we’d love to see that continue to grow and develop.” Walpole’s Brocklebank said British luxury companies export more than 9 billion pounds of goods annually to the U.S., and as the U.K. looks beyond its borders into its future global trading relationships, “high-end British brands’ success at doing business overseas will be more important than ever.”

Phillipson, who in addition to serving as consul general is also Britain’s Trade Commissioner for North America, said: “Three-quarters of U.K. luxury brands choose the U.S. as their priority export destination, and New York alone comprises 35 percent of annual global luxury goods sales in the U.S. I’m pleased to welcome Walpole back to the Big Apple for an opportunity-rich program for some of the most dynamic names in British luxury.”

This story was reported by WWD and originally appeared on WWD.com

Access exclusive content