Published:


RisbyBy Lord Risby

If we look at growth projections for Europe
overall this year, they are at best anaemic. By contrast, the USA and many other
countries seem to have much more promising outlooks. Our non-EU export
performance has been good, but others have done better, and of course we have
traditionally suffered from a substantial trade deficit.

Last year a cross-Party group of six peers and
two MPs was appointed as unpaid Prime Ministerial Trade Envoys – the
appellation securing the highest access. My role is in Algeria. It was just
over a year ago I went there for the first time, having always been fascinated
by its turbulent and at times tragic and violent history. It would be tactful
to say that the Franco-Algerian relationship is complicated. Today the French
language is increasingly giving way to Arabic and English, and Algeria has
developed strong trade relationships with other European countries like Spain,
Germany, Italy and Turkey. The country has been remarkably stable, scarred by
its own Islamist insurrection over twenty years ago, and views current events
in many other Arab countries with alarm.

Our historic links with them had been very
limited until President Bouteflika initiated a closer relationship after a
visit to Britain in 2006. When David Cameron went there last week, it was as
the first British Prime Minister since Algerian independence in 1962. He was
warmly received with immense enthusiasm. What has in consequence emerged is a
strategic security partnership, a comprehensive commitment to both establishing
English language learning facilities and to encouraging trade and investment
opportunities. From the President downwards, there is a huge desire to spread
the English language, and the British Council is now responding. We of course
have had our own experiences of terrorism. Out of the recent tragic events at
In Amenas, comes a much closer, stronger partnership on a sustained basis.


Previous prime ministers like John Major and
Tony Blair personally sponsored export promotion. Under William Hague the role
of embassies as platforms for our overseas trade efforts is now well
entrenched, and they work in tandem with UKTI to effect this. Having individual
country trade envoys supplementing the ambassadors’ efforts would have been
inconceivable in times past. Now most of our diplomats have greeted the trade
envoy role with enthusiasm. In Algeria, we have a particularly energetic and
focused ambassador and an embassy which displayed exceptional professionalism
and humanity in dealing with the terrorist aftermath.

In my own case, the
Algerian President has appointed as my counterpart the senior cabinet minister
with responsibility for energy and mining. So we plan to work together to
remove barriers to the significant investment opportunities in a very wealthy, energy
rich country which wants to see educational and health standards upgraded, in
addition to enhancing their security capabilities. So for countries as diverse
as Indonesia, Vietnam, Mexico, South Africa and Azerbaijan, amongst others,
trade envoys will be supplementing the efforts of the FCO and trade ministers
like my fellow peers Stephen Green and Jonathan Marland, and working with the
grain of local conditions.

Commentary about David Cameron inevitably
revolves around domestic issues, but what is universally recognised by British
business and officialdom is that no previous Prime Minister has committed more
time and energy to strengthening our commercial activities abroad. Any
dispassionate observer last week seeing him in action in Algeria, spurring on a
comprehensive security, cultural and economic interlinked business relationship, would
recognise that he fulfils this role admirably. It was his idea to introduce the
notion of the Prime Ministerial Trade Envoy. In export markets we have indeed
some catching up to do, but given the neighbourhood we inhabit, opening up new
markets and successful export promotion is now quite simply a national
imperative.

Comments are closed.