UK vote adds uncertainty to an already shaky global economy

Britain's vote to leave the European Union adds a heavy dose of uncertainty to a global economy that is still trying to heal from the global financial crisis.

The most immediate effects will be felt in Britain. But economists say the ripples could be felt much farther afield.

Companies will wonder whether to invest or locate in Britain during the years-long negotiations to define new trade conditions with the EU, its biggest business partner. Across Europe, trade and immigration may lose ground to nationalism and protectionism. The EU itself, minus free-market oriented Britain, may turn to more government intervention and regulation. Other countries may eventually seek to leave the bloc.

"A new set of economic circumstances has been created, which the world will have to deal with," said India's Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. "Volatility is the new norm. And therefore, economies have to learn to live with crisis after crisis."

The global economy isn't in a crisis, but growth is muted and uneven among countries. The International Monetary Fund forecasts growth of 3.5 percent for this year. The Chinese economy is slowing, the U.S. recovery has hit a rough patch, major emerging economies like Brazil are in recession, and Europe and Japan are stagnating.

That's not good enough to bring people out of poverty of get them jobs. Unemployment remains at a high 10.2 percent in the 19 countries that use the euro; in the U.S. it's a lower 5.5 percent, but the labor participation rate has not recovered since the recession of 2008-9, indicating many workers have not benefited from the stronger U.S. recovery.



The most direct economic pain will be felt by the U.K. and Europe. Research analysis group IHS Global Insight cut its U.K. growth forecast to a bare 0.2 percent for next year, from 2.4 percent. The eurozone economy will lose some 0.3 percentage points, and twice that if a new trade agreement isn't quickly reached, said economists at ING DiBa.

The direct consequences for the world economy are likely to be more moderate. Moody's Analytics estimates that global economic output would be 0.25 percent smaller after five years than it otherwise would have been, while the EU would be a full percent smaller and the U.K. 4 percent.



Many big companies use the U.K. as a base for their European operations. London's strength as a banking center is in part based on easy access to financial markets in Europe. Regulatory approval to do business in the British capital means an all-access pass to the other 27 EU countries, a process called passporting.

Global banks like JP Morgan Chase have already said that they would have to move jobs from London to the European mainland if Britain leaves the EU. New borders could also raise the cost of business, though exactly how much is hard to tell.

The impact on trade could be lessened by a civilized divorce. Britain could wind up like Switzerland, which simply adopts EU regulations without having any say in how they are decided. But the price for that might be allowing free movement of workers. A desire to control immigration was a major force behind the "leave" campaign, so it's unclear if such an agreement could ever be reached.

"If the U.K. takes a tougher stance on immigration, for businesses this will be a disaster as the EU will retaliate," said Christian Stadler, professor of strategic management at the Warwick Business School in Coventry, Britain. "Access to the EU will become difficult. For some companies this means doing business in Europe won't be attractive anymore."

"Others will have to deal with complicated bureaucracy," he said. "In short: a nightmare."



The British vote have a much broader impact if becomes a turning point away from trade and economic integration.

Many think it could embolden anti-EU, anti-immigration political movements such as the Front National in France. Its leader, Marine Le Pen, is already considered likely to make the final round of presidential elections next year. Geert Wilders, head of the anti-Islam, anti-EU Freedom Party in the Netherlands, called Friday for a referendum on the EU there, too.

And it goes beyond the 28-country free trade bloc in Europe. Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for U.S. president, has described the free trade agreement among Canada, the U.S. and Mexico as "a disaster." Likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has said the U.S. should "renegotiate deals that are not working for Americans" and if necessary reject a proposed trade deal with Asian countries if it doesn't show clear benefits for raising wages and jobs.

"In the US there is a clear parallel between the rise of Donald Trump and what is going on in the U.K. and the rest of Europe," said Rob Carnell, U.S. economist at ING-DiBa. "The recovery has left large swathes of the population behind, and this is their protest."

"I think this vote has been a vote against open and integrated societies, quite frankly," said Guntram Wolff, director of the Breugel think tank in Brussel. "And I think the sentiment in many other European countries...would be to say, we will not counter that, we are so fearful, that we will basically try to counter populism by following the same road and be more protectionist."

Wolff said the British referendum was a vote of no confidence in the Western world's drive for more open trade.

"I think it's a turning point for the globe," he said.


AP Business Writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.