Opinion

Britain’s Place in the Global Trading System

Liam Fox

The International Trade Secretary speaks at Policy Exchange in London to set out the UK’s future role in the global trading system.

Good morning.

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The arguments around Britain’s exit from the European Union have been intense and passionate.

Understandably, they have dominated the political agenda and consumed most – sometimes all – of our political bandwidth.

On Tuesday the House of Commons voted to support a deal, with changes to the backstop. And the Government will now talk to the EU about how we address Parliament’s views.

But, however we ultimately separate ourselves from the European Union, we must remember that there is a world beyond Europe and there will be a time beyond Brexit. That is what I would like to begin to focus on today.

The UK’s future role

The first question we must ask is a general one. What should Britain’s place in the world be? Where should we direct our great political, diplomatic and economic energies?

What, if you like, is our mission?

It used to be fashionable to quote Dean Acheson, US Secretary of State under Harry Truman, in saying that Britain had “lost an empire and not yet found a role”.

That may have once been true. For some, the EU seemed to provide an answer. But the UK has been always an awkward member, unsuited politically and temperamentally to the demands and destination of ever-closer union.

Our new relationship will be far better for both the UK and the EU. Now Britain is taking back ownership of our destiny. Where we share a common agenda, the EU will find a stalwart friend, and a close political and economic ally.

We are emerging into a world that is crying out for leadership, and our country is uniquely placed to meet the global challenges of the 21st century.

The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review sums up our position perfectly. As it says:

“We sit at the heart of the rules-based international order. The UK is the only nation to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council and in NATO… the Commonwealth, the G7 and G20, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OECD, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

We use our membership of these organisations as an instrument to amplify our nation’s power and prosperity. In all these organisations, we play a central role in strengthening international norms and promoting our values. We promote good governance, anti-corruption, the rule of law and open societies.

We maintain and champion free trade, and we work with growing powers around the world to build a stronger and more resilient global economy.”

We maintain and champion free trade, and we work with growing powers around the world to build a stronger and more resilient global economy.”

It’s hard to put it better than that. As Britain takes up her role as a fully independent actor on the world stage, this is an enviable position from which to be starting.

The Department for International Trade has, since its creation, been looking to that world beyond Europe and that time beyond Brexit.

And in an era where globalisation and rapid technological advancement are fundamentally changing the face of global commerce, Britain will have a clear role in helping to identify and meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.

In Davos last week, trade ministers considered a paper from the Global Future Council on International Trade and Investment. It set out a number of scenarios for the future trading environment.

They started with the optimistic – where countries cooperate to address issues through a revitalised WTO and complementary international frameworks – then they had the less optimistic, where countries cooperate but are drawn into competing blocs, producing a Balkanisation of global trade.

And finally they had the genuinely pessimistic where there would be a rise of protectionism and where countries could not cooperate, leading to prohibitive unilateral barriers with consequent inefficiencies, high economic risks and a decline in productivity and innovation.

It is essential that Britain uses its new role to help push the global trading arguments in the right direction.

Over the coming months I will be talking about the challenges we face in more detail such as the consequences of a protracted US – China trade dispute, the potential slowing of the global economy and the unmet challenges in the global trading system.

Today I want to set out our general approach to the institutions that govern global trade and where we believe momentum is required.

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