UK Trade Strategy Horizon Planning
On Wednesday morning, IoD Policy Team members attended two key events focusing on the UK’s international trade strategy.
Trade Policy Advisor, Emma Rowland, headed to Canary Wharf for an address given by Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s Shadow Business and Trade Minister. He set out Labour’s ambitions for a UK trade strategy.
Labour would integrate trade policy with foreign policy and a UK industrial strategy. Within this, Labour would seek to “remove the politics” from the UK’s international relationships. This would include pursuing a more practical partnership with the EU, pushing for both a veterinary agreement and an agreement on mutual recognition of professional qualifications.
In addition, he would want to establish an independent trade council which would focus on the scrutiny process of Free Trade Agreements. Signing trade deals is often seen as beneficial to business, but according to the shadow trade team, too much focus at the moment is placed on the political wins and removing tariff barriers, where more emphasis could be placed on areas like data and critical minerals.
Geopolitics was of course on the agenda. Labour’s approach to China is to “compete with and challenge” the superpower, but they have also criticised the government’s decision to water-down the National Security and Investment Act, which was introduced 18 months ago.
Labour committed to pursuing a closer relationship with business, for example by leveraging connections with business organisations and maintaining engagement with firms across all areas of the country.
Meanwhile, Sasha Trapani, the IoD’s Press and Policy Officer, attended the Institute for Export and International Trade’s ‘The Import Export Show 2023’, a valuable opportunity to hear from experts from across the international trade landscape on how the UK shapes its outlook on trade for the year to come.
A highlight of the day was the panel discussion, ‘The UK’s place in a changing trade world’, which explored the increasing levels of geopolitical uncertainty in the world and considered how the UK is adapting to its new place in the global order since leaving the EU.
Central themes within the discussion were the need for the UK to realise its role as an individual trade actor and use trade as a diplomatic tool. In addition, the importance of prioritising SMEs when evolving policy. In the wake of increased use of artificial intelligence and digitalisation, the case was made for these mediums to be used to support SME trading and protect open markets, as FTAs alone will not suffice.
We should also take a closer look at countries and regions we may have previously overlooked. For example, Africa is currently doing a good job in showcasing best practices for responsible trading regulation. Commissions and committees are being set up which allow SMEs to report issues and flag queries via apps and online platforms, cutting out volumes of paperwork and red tape which often is an issue in the UK. The overarching message of the day was that we need to get ahead of the curve with relation to international trade, or we risk being left behind.