Salesmanship and the FCO

Joseph Perry

A rare Coalition policy that few people can oppose concerns foreign policy and its recently found emphasis upon promoting Britain’s economic interests abroad. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now on the frontline for championing British business and industry in the hope of aiding an economic recovery and providing long-term sustainable growth for the future. Nobody who wishes to see a revival in British manufacturing, the boosting of our exports and the reputation of British business spread across an ever more competitive world can be unsupportive of the FCO efforts.

So what has the government and the FCO actually done to put Britain on a path to becoming a world beater again? The FCO Business Charter 2011 proclaims three key objectives: opening markets, ensuring access to resources and promoting sustainable growth. Commercial diplomacy is now the driving force of the FCO’s activities on top of its normalities. Evidently securing sources of growth for Britain is not mutually exclusive from promoting the national interest, rather they are very much intertwined. New departments have been created, such as the Commercial and Economic Diplomacy Departments. Resources are being diverted towards the prosperity agenda in high growth markets overseas. FCO ministers in 170 countries worldwide have been instructed to use their wide-reaching global network to lobby on behalf of British business, as well as attracting inward investment and seeking to influence international economic policy.

Additionally David Cameron has led strategic trade delegations to Brazil, China, India and the Gulf seeking to expand Britain’s trade links. The fastest growing areas of the world are key targets to tap into and to a large extent there has been success – exports to BRIC economies now makes up 5.56% compared with just 3.34% in 2007. Some of Britain’s fastest growing trade links are also in the Commonwealth. A club which spreads across 5 continents and holds almost a third of the world’s people demonstrates just how much opportunity there is outside Europe, something Conservative MP’s are only too pleased to remind us all of. Hague has claimed to be putting the C back into the FCO, remembering old friends and strengthening relationships with new friends. Britain’s soft power has also been carefully marketed around the world, particularly throughout the Olympics, in the hope attracting students, tourists and creating an all round buzz around the UK.  Any product Britain can sell or any service it can provide is fast becoming common knowledge across the world. As David Cameron has said on many occasions ‘Britain is open for business’.

Cynics may forward arguments suggesting if Britain had anything worth selling then it is already doing so. Also Britain still remains the 6th largest manufacturer in the world, consequently why is there so much effort being carried out? A salesman is only as good as his products after all. What can Britain offer the emerging economies? Money-makers include banking, law firms, IT and other consultancies backed up by vibrant industries in machines, pharmaceuticals and cars.

Yet the reason why the FCO’s efforts are so important is through its attempts to encourage and help businesses and industries to start exporting if they are not already doing so, to look beyond Europe if they are in the exporting game, and subsequently provide long-term sustainable growth which Britain can rely on in the future. The resurrection of British manufacturing is long overdue as is our economies reputation for being more than the City of London and unsustainable consumer spending. The government has set the goal of doubling UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020. This is an ambitious target but why not?

If Britain is to win the global race, the latest soundbite, then targets must be ambitious – Something this government is not afraid off. Yet if Britain is to place her hopes on the emerging world, there are obstacles, such as intense competition from its Western counterparts and colonial baggage to overcome. Nevertheless, having one of the most impressive diplomatic services in the world, there is no doubt that with it onside there can be much prosperity brought to Britain in the form of investment, jobs and perhaps returning to the morale boosting days of trade surpluses. Nobody can deny this will take time. However, efforts have to start somewhere.

Britain needs growth, growth which comes from making things and providing services to the world. Hats off to this government in utilising the FCO to put Britain back on the road towards being a multidimensional economy. Though it may be impossible for Britain to be the ‘workshop of the world’ once more, the more ‘Made in UK’ becomes commonplace across the world, the more prosperous our economy will be and consequently our national interest will be secured.

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