Making 'Global Britain' a reality

Inside Downing Street, there are two words that ring throughout the corridors on a daily basis, “global Britain”. The dream, is a host of new and exciting deals with far-flung countries, where British exporters reap the rewards of casting off the shackles of restrictive EU membership that once prevented the signing of the UK’s own trade agreements.

Whilst the reality is seemingly a long way off, especially since the PM called a snap General Election last month, steps are being taken on the road to achieving this.

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Chinese Companies on list of Fortune Global 500 Companies in 2016

Connecting the UK and China

Earlier this month, Britain and China marked a new milestone in their ambitious vision to create a new Silk Road for today: the Belt and Road Initiative. Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the project focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries located between the People’s Republic of China and the rest of Eurasia.

After setting off from its terminal in Stanford-le-Hope, Essex on 10th April, the DP World locomotive passed through 7 countries before reaching its destination in Zhejiang province in eastern China.

With the cost of sending goods by train cheaper than by air, and quicker than by sea, it’s no surprise to see the appeal. The arrival of the consignment in China comes just three months on from the arrival of the first freight rail service in the opposite direction.

Xubin Feng, chairman of Yiwu Timex Industrial Investment Co, which is managing the service, said: "This is the first export train and just the start of a regular direct service between the UK and China.

"We have great faith in the UK as an export nation and rail provides an excellent alternative for moving large volumes of goods over long distances faster."

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Qatar investment

Qatari investors don't seem to have been fazed by the UK’s decision to leave the EU. In fact, they have an optimistic outlook post-Brexit, foreseeing a "good future" for an independent Britain, as suggested by finance minister Ali Shareef al-Emadi.

The minister told the BBC: “Currently the UK is our first investment destination and it is the largest investment destination for Qatari investors. The way we look at our investment in any market, and especially in the UK, it is a very long-term investment.”

Whilst the weakness of the pound since last June’s referendum has made UK assets more attractive to foreign investors, one thing the UK must bear in mind is that this could wane if the country were to adopt unfavourable trade deals following Brexit. For now though, the UK offers great value for investors, looking to get more for their money.

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    Gu Hao, Product Dept. Manager, SinoScan China
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Asia-Pacific trade building

As Britain steps up globally, it’s self-evident that trade relationships will need to be developed with a wide range of countries. Those in the Far East will be crucial and India is certainly one that the British government will be hoping to forge a stronger bond with. Education, research, energy, security and defence represent just a few of the areas the two countries have discussed collaboration on. Meanwhile, other countries such as Australia and New Zealand will be looked to as long-standing close allies, where partnerships can be boosted even further.

There is certainly room for improvement, with the UK only coming in as India’s 12th largest trading partner in 2015-16, far behind the likes of Indonesia, Germany and Japan. However, there is growing demand for UK goods, services, technology and know-how to help succeed in programmes such as Make in India, Digital India and Skill India. This could be an area that sees the UK become a much more important partner in the years to come.

Despite only accounting for 4.1% of Australia’s total trade, UK international trade secretary, Liam Fox, has remained positive: “Whilst the UK is not able to conclude FTAs whilst still a member of the EU, we can do preparatory work with other countries on our future trading relationships. With Australia, we aim to ensure the expeditious transition to formal FTA negotiations once the UK has completed its negotiations to exit the EU.”

London’s National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review identified the Asia-Pacific as one of the most important regions for economic growth in the UK post-Brexit, where it stated that Britain will 'work with like-minded partners in the region to defend and protect our global shared interests.'

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Trade in exchange for aid

After the Brexit vote last year, it was considered that the UK could use its £11-12bn foreign aid budget to build a series of trade deals and “open the door” to new opportunities. While this cannot mean using aid as a direct incentive, it can enhance cooperation with developing markets.

As reported in The Telegraph, a Whitehall source reportedly said: “We can leverage existing relationships to strike trade deals. The Department for International Development can be used to improve Britain’s standing in the world. It will be a completely fresh way of looking at Britain’s aid budget. If ministers have meetings with countries which we’ve given hundreds of millions of pounds to, why can’t we use that to start a conversation about trade?”

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of all undergraduate degrees in China were in engineering in 2015

The ‘special relationship’ with the US

Since Theresa May’s visit to the US back in January, news surrounding talks with the administration across the pond has been fairly limited. Officials in Washington have since come out to say that the EU is at the front of the queue to strike a trade deal with the US, and whilst this may seemingly come as a blow to the UK, it’s important to remember that EU laws mean that the UK cannot secure anything for another two years as it is.

Republican House speaker, Paul Ryan, paid a visit to Britain last week, where he shared his thoughts on the UK’s relationship with the EU. In a speech to the think tank Policy Exchange, he said: “Now that Article 50 has been invoked, the UK and EU will determine the best path forward. We want the parties to come together and strike a lasting agreement. A strong UK-EU relationship is in all of our best interests.”

Coming together in the interests of all parties involved appears to be the best path forward for the UK, EU and US, but only time will tell once negotiations start as to whether this will be the case.

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Estimated number of Chinese upper middle-class and affluent households in 2020 (Source: Boston Consulting Group)

Effects on UK industry

Amongst the various debates around 'Global Britain', is what it will mean to UK manufacturers. Manufacturers will be looking to maintain positive purchasing managers’ index (PMI) figures, which have been strong (54.2 in March) since the drop in value of the pound and resurgence in export orders. A 'Global Britain' should certainly help to maintain and expand this growth, but how much will be dependent on having access to EU workers? EU migrants currently make up 11% of the manufacturing workforce, so unless UK workers are able to fill the impending skills gap, growth will surely be hampered severely.

Experts have warned that the auto industry could be one of the hardest hit sectors following Brexit, because so many firms rely on overseas talent and access to the single market. Reflecting on this, the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), which broke annual global sales records after smashing the 600,000 barrier this month, has said that the company may find it difficult to attract top engineers due to tighter immigration controls.

With the political parties' outlooks focused for the next 50 odd days on the forthcoming General Election; whoever ends up in power needs to quickly focus on strengthening international trade links, within the boundaries our current EU membership allows of course! It is now more important than ever to make every effort to build relationships across the globe. The UK - with its highly internationalised financial sector, world-class R&D platform and a language that is spoken across the world – will be looking to reinforce President Xi’s calls for “an open global economy to share opportunities and interests”. It remains to be seen how many countries will answer our calls. Only time will tell!

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