Ranil Jayawardena is Minister for International Trade, and is MP for North East Hampshire.
Benjamin Disraeli once said that the secrets to success in politics were to “be amusing, never [to] tell unkind stories and above all, never [to] tell long ones.” I will make sure to abide by the latter two rules here, though sadly I cannot promise you the former!
The great Conservative Prime Minister once also, perhaps rather more prophetically, opined that “there is no education like adversity.” And, as the world recovers from the unprecedented impact of Covid-19, this Government will use key lessons we have learned to build our economy back better, stronger, and more resilient in the months and years ahead.
Trade will be pivotal to this great endeavour, driving growth throughout the United Kingdom, generating jobs, fostering innovation, and creating prosperity in every corner of our country.
Using our newfound freedom, we will seek to forge even deeper and stronger trade ties with our friends around the world, including with the world’s largest democracy: India.
Liz Truss, our Trade Secretary, and I have had countless video calls with our counterparts since last year, and Truss is in India this week to take forward the opportunities built for closer collaboration between our nations. She will outline our commitment to strengthen the United Kingdom–India Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP), a landmark moment on the road to a future Free Trade Agreement. The ETP will, itself, bring economic benefits, address key barriers, boost trade and investment, and create more jobs in both countries.
It is clear we must work side-by-side with other enterprising free trading nations to overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19 and embrace the enormous opportunities for global economic growth to come, so that future generations are not left shouldering the burden of the pandemic.
Trade will fuel the engine of British growth, as we plot a new path for ourselves as an independent trading nation – opening up fresh opportunities for budding exporters from Peterhead to Penzance, Bathgate to Ballymena, and Altringham to Aberystwyth, as we level up opportunity across the country. And it will bring us closer, culturally and economically, to likeminded nations, as we forge new bonds of prosperity worldwide.
In fact, it is the global pandemic that has highlighted the importance of keeping trade flowing and supply chains open – as the spectre of protectionism has reared its head once again.
Throughout the crisis, Britain and India have worked together to create ground-breaking solutions to the challenges presented by Covid-19, spearheading the drive to make sure that vaccines are distributed fairly, which is key to reopening the world’s economy. And our nations will continue to work side-by-side to develop the vaccines of the future, through the joint United Kingdom-India vaccines hub we launched last year, sharing best practice for regulation, clinical trials, and fostering innovation as we place ourselves at the vanguard of change in this field.
A truly Global Britain – a beacon of free and fair trade – will work with our friends and partners, like India, to overcome barriers to international commerce wherever we find them, using our seat in the G7, the G20, the WTO and other fora.
As two of the world’s most dynamic, innovative and truly global trading nations, Britain and India can help lead the world in harnessing the economic potential that only free trade can bestow. It’s this potential – harnessed by this Government – that will create opportunities for the next generation. For those in school, college or university – at this most difficult of times – Britain setting sail to trade with the world should provide hope. We stand tall in the world.
People want to do business with us. We are committed to playing our role beyond our shores. It is this global outlook that will provide our whole nation the exciting future we deserve, from generation to generation.
Free Trade Agreements with countries worldwide will be pivotal in building this truly Global Britain. I wrote on New Year’s Day that we have had agreed deals with 63 countries outside the EU. It is now 64, plus the EU, accounting for £889bn of our bilateral trade. No other country has ever negotiated so many trade deals simultaneously, nor with the same ambition.
The voice of British business – including the small and medium-sized firms that form the backbone of our economy – has been heard loud and clear throughout this process, and we want to expand this national conversation even further, as we build a trade policy that works for every part of Britain, and every generation.
That’s why, as much as it is right to celebrate our growing trade and investment relationship with India, worth £48 billion a year, supporting more than half a million jobs in each other’s economies, it is right to go further for the future.
We are already the largest European market for India’s goods exports, with hundreds of Indian companies doing business across our country, employing more than 80,000 people. But we can do even more. By taking our trade to new heights, our two great independent trading nations are helping support our shared values – of democracy, freedom, and protection of the environment – worldwide.
These fantastic agreements will provide the charge that powers the British economy forward, as we spearhead work to develop pioneering solutions to the great challenges the world faces, securing the opportunities that the country has called for.
Central to this is perfecting green technologies, from renewable energy to carbon capture storage, which will help build a cleaner, greener, more sustainable global economy, particularly as Britain progresses towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. As we prepare to host COP26, we will work with India to develop the green technologies that will transform the way people live and work worldwide as we help build back better from the pandemic globally.
So, as we look ahead to a better, bolder, brighter era for international trade and investment, we want Britain to set her course to the heart of the action, driving change and fostering progress and innovation worldwide.
After all, as Disraeli recognised a century and a half ago, it is only by embracing the challenges of the present that we can help shape the world of the future.