Published by Andrew Haldenby on 24 March 2015
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25 March 2015
As a Foreign Office Minister, my job has taken me to many far flung parts of the globe over the past two years – from Mongolia to Malaysia, from China to Colombia. Wherever I have travelled, I have sought relentlessly to bang the drum for British companies.
It is vitally important, in my view, that we in Government collectively send the signal to our overseas partners that in an uncertain and unstable world, Britain is competent, confident, and remains open for business.
Almost three years ago, the Chancellor set out our 2020 aspiration to double UK exports to £1 trillion, and to increase foreign direct investment into the UK to £1.5 trillion. The global economic backdrop remains a very challenging one and it requires a major, coordinated cross-Government push to make this happen, working to support you as the businesses that will drive the export growth we are targeting.
While UK Trade and Investment is the main provider of front-line services to British companies, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s commercial and economic diplomacy is about building the long-term economic conditions in which businesses can thrive overseas. To achieve this, we have deployed more staff to the fastest growing emerging markets, creating over 100 new positions in China and India alone. Our Embassies and High Commissions around the world are working tirelessly in support of business. This includes opening up markets and promoting free trade; identifying new business opportunities in growth economies; promoting transparency and a rules-based economic system; and tackling corruption to create a level playing field for British companies.
Closer to home, we are working to safeguard the UK’s position as one of the most competitive business environments in Europe, and pursuing a European Union that is itself more business friendly, more flexible, more competitive and more open through free trade deals right around the world.
Our collective efforts are paying off. The UK grew at 2.6 per cent last year – the highest rate since 2007. We have created 1.75 million new jobs. We are attracting record levels of inward investment – an increase last year of 8 per cent to £975 billion, maintaining the UK’s position as the premier destination for FDI in Europe. I believe that business recognises this progress.
With half of our exports going to the EU, it is fair to say we have faced particularly challenging market conditions. Nevertheless, we have made real gains in some of the world’s largest emerging markets, with exports to China almost doubled since 2010.
We have a real opportunity to build on these gains in the years ahead.
I look forward to joining you at the Reform policy summit to discuss how we can capitalise on that opportunity and what else we can do to support the export drive, to deliver growth and to create jobs for the UK.
Government does not have all the answers, of course. It is vital that we work as closely and as effectively as possible with British businesses and I welcome your ideas on what more we can do to achieve our shared ambitions.
Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office