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US business rejecting fears over referendum

THE US ambassador to the UK sees no signs the independence referendum is discouraging North American businesses from investing in Scotland – comments that contrast with Chancellor George Osborne's claims that constitutional uncertainty is harming efforts to attract overseas firms.

ADVANTAGE: Louis Susman, the US ambassador to the UK, says Scotland's pro-business culture and universities are major assets. Picture: Steve Cox
ADVANTAGE: Louis Susman, the US ambassador to the UK, says Scotland's pro-business culture and universities are major assets. Picture: Steve Cox

However, Louis Susman acknowledges firms already operating in Scotland are keen for more information to be made available ahead of the independence referendum next year.

Speaking during a visit to Edinburgh, the former lawyer and Citigroup executive said: "I don't have any direct knowledge that people who are considering inward investment have [the referendum] on their agenda.

"Coming from the private sector, I am sure that if someone did, they would want to know what the ramifications might be in the future but it is too early to tell that. Businesses which are [in Scotland] are analysing it a lot, and I see from the London end and the CBI there is an effort to preserve the union."

Mr Susman's declaration the referendum is not putting off potential inward investors is in direct contrast to Mr Osborne who has suggested the uncertainty was harming attempts to bring foreign investment to Scotland.

The talent pool in Scotland was highlighted by Mr Susman as one of the major attractions for US companies considering setting up here, as well as the "general pro-business atmosphere" in Scotland.

He said: "I talk to American businesses all the time and it is clear the biggest advantage [Scotland has] is the quality of the workforce, which is excellent, and the universities which supply excellent graduates."

Transport links between the US and Scotland, plus the common language, were other factors mentioned by the ambassador.

Having seen the way the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor raised the profile of Wales as a tourist destination in the US, Mr Susman believes the 2014 golf match at Gleneagles is a great opportunity for Scotland.

The 75-year-old also said the Tartan Week celebrations in New York were becoming part of the experience of the "American diaspora".

He said: "Things like the Edinburgh festival and the whole cultural aspect also bring in tourism. The other thing that helps at the moment is the dollar is pretty strong and the pound is pretty weak."

Mr Susman also believes the Scotch whisky industry will continue to do very well around the world in the coming years. He is hopeful a mooted free trade agreement between the European Union and the US will lead to a "boom" in relations between the areas although he insists no economy can afford to ignore markets around the globe.

He said: "It is a highly competitive world and everyone is trying to get a piece of our action. By the same token we are looking for people to come to America for the same thing.

"We are the world's largest economy. If you have that you can't ignore China, Korea or Vietnam or any of the Asian companies. You can't ignore India or Brazil. From a business point of view I would say that companies are looking everywhere for business.

"The market for China for beer is a lot bigger than the market in Scotland for beer but we are Britain's largest trade relationship."

Mr Susman is "cautiously optimistic" the "fragile" US recovery will continue through 2013.

He also believes the country's banking sector is now "as stable as it has ever been".

He said: "The banks have re-capitalised, the money they borrowed has all been repaid and, I might add, at a substantial profit. I know of no bank in America which is in trouble today whereas three years ago we had a lot."

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