As a Deputy Director for the UK’s Market Access Strategy, your role is crucial in driving UK growth and jobs, particularly in the post-Brexit era where independent trade policy has become increasingly important. While the negotiations for Free Trade Agreements may be what the public sees as the most high-profile aspect of your work, your team’s focus is on removing trade barriers that are hindering UK businesses from expanding their operations.
Your team’s work involves collaborating with governments across the globe to identify and remove regulatory obstacles, such as customs procedures, tariffs, and non-tariff barriers that restrict the flow of goods and services. This could include negotiating mutual recognition agreements that allow UK firms to sell their products in foreign markets without undergoing additional safety checks, or working with foreign governments to streamline customs processes and reduce administrative burdens.
Your work is crucial in ensuring that UK businesses have access to new markets, can expand their operations, and remain competitive in an increasingly globalized economy. By facilitating trade, you are not only helping businesses to grow but also promoting economic growth and job creation in the UK.
Earlier this year, the Secretary of State, Kemi Badenoch, gave a speech at Lancaster House setting out her top five trade priorities to deliver economic growth for this country.
Knocking down these barriers can require a great deal of technical expertise (more on that later) but there’s actually a beautiful simplicity to what we do. A British business says there’s something making it harder for them to export or grow their business in a particular country. Often it’s only Government that can work with the local authorities to sort it out. Once it’s done, we let that business know and they can get back to entering the market.
Sometimes an issue affects just one company – and the local Embassy might give someone a ring and find a solution. But what gets my team out of bed is where that issue is systemic. Perhaps it’s a piece of regulation in that country that is making it harder for (British) importers or investors to succeed. The rules might say that foreign companies are ineligible to bid for government contract. Or maybe it’s not even ‘the rules’ but the way that a Government authority chooses to implement or administer them, like checks done by customs officials at borders.
The technical term for these things is non-tariff barriers. And while it was mentioned that we largely work on these outside of big free trade agreement negotiations, don’t be fooled that they’re small fry. Our colleagues at the Treasury estimate non-tariff barriers to be up to three times more costly to business than tariffs. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) puts that figure closer to 10x!
The Secretary of State has set out her hit list of around 100 barriers that if removed tomorrow, could boost UK exports by more than £20 billion over the next five years. The team – brilliant as they are – will breathe a sigh of relief when they’ll hear that we aren’t expecting to tackle all of those in a day. Rather, over the next few years. It’s been great to tell people that in the 200 days since Kemi Badenoch walked into the Old Admiralty Building (our HQ) on 6 September, we’ve removed at least £2.2 billion worth – that’s £11 million a day.
This is a huge team effort – encompassing not just the trade policy and geographical experts in our Directorate, but a group of people extending all the way along Whitehall, our Darlington Economic Campus, and then thousands of miles across the globe.
Our colleagues based in Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates around the world are expert in how their countries work and have the relationships that are vital for getting these barriers removed. When I was Deputy Consul General and Head of Trade & Investment in Rio de Janeiro, we worked with British businesses every day, from all over the UK, connecting UK businesses with potential Brazilian buyers and crucially, understanding where changes could make it easier for the UK and Brazil to do business.
Back here in the UK, nearly every Government Department, and many UK regulators, lend us their experts to work out how we can smooth down these frictions getting in the way of trade. He recalls when he worked in what is now called the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, ensuring the UK’s trade deals help us meet our climate ambition. He would receive calls from friends across our overseas network asking if he could connect them with our people who were designing the UK’s hydrogen policy. They wanted the UK’s experts to share their latest thinking with policy makers in their countries, to ensure we all design our markets in a way that allows businesses to work to one set of specifications and not a new one for every border they cross – good for global decarbonisation, and good for our growing green economy. Today, the team’s job is to not leave those connections to chance, bringing together the right parts of Government – including our own trade policy and sectoral experts in DBT – to focus on the biggest opportunities around the world.
The Deputy Director’s favourite recent example is the work of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) with their counterparts in South Africa to digitise their process for registering innovative new medicines. These experts, working with our in-country trade team, have made it easier for South African patients to access cutting edge drugs and medical technologies from all around the world. The UK is a global leader in life sciences, and we already know that this work will support the sale of more British products, supporting more high skilled jobs and maintaining R&D investment in our country.
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The most crucial part of this equation are businesses themselves – supported by our International Trade Advisors spread across the country. They are the ones who tell us about the barriers in the first place, they sense check the intelligence we’ve heard from others, and most importantly, once the barriers are removed, they take the risk of growing their companies into new markets, increasing their exports and creating the higher paying jobs here in the UK that we’re all after.