The wind of change?

It is fair to surmise that 2016 was a year characterised by two major global events.

On June 24, a referendum to decide whether the UK should stay or depart from the European Union (EU) saw citizens vote in favour of the latter, a stunning phenomenon dubbed as “Brexit”.

Five months later, on November 9, Donald Trump, a billionaire tycoon who had never held any prior political office, stunned favourite Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential Election to become the superpower’s 45th leader.

A familiar theme underpinned both Brexit and President Trump’s election win.

Protectionism – the idea that governments should protect local businesses from international competition – was a central campaigning plank for the UK Independence Party which endorsed the UK’s defection from the EU.

One key reason attributed to the successful Brexit vote was that UK citizens were frustrated with migrants who had been accused of taking their jobs.

Meanwhile, President Trump promised to ensure that jobs were offered to American workers first, and said his administration would do all it could to ensure further jobs were not moved abroad.

This protectionist nature has also been epitomised in the international trade arena, with President Trump (who took office on January 20) promising to dump the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade deal that had been agreed to but not yet ratified among the US, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile, and Peru.

President Trump has labelled the Trans-Pacific Partnershipas “job-killing”, and claims it would lead to US manufacturing jobs being displaced.

Mobility at stake

Mobility and HR leaders in Singapore say talent mobility will be placed firmly in the spotlight this year.

“Both Brexit and the US Presidential Election were won on campaigns characterised by protectionist manifestos; therefore mobility could be significantly impacted,” says Mario Ferraro, Global Mobility Practice Leader – Asia, Middle East, Africa and Turkey, of global consulting firm Mercer.

Still, with the UK’s actual exit from EU  at least two years away, and with any reforms in the US requiring approval from the Congress, Ferraro says it is far too early to predict what the impact will be, or how soon the effects will become tangible in Asia-Pacific.

Ferraro expects some businesses to move out of the UK, given the likely immigration restrictions. The UK can also expect fewer new businesses to launch over the next few years, while existing businesses that stay are likely to have reduced hiring plans.

Conversely, trade restrictions in the US would have a positive short-term effect on the national economy there, with more organisations moving their operations (back) to the US in order to have the best possible access to that massive market. Mobility into and within the country is likely to increase as a result.