July 27, 2010 4:23 am

The UK has to trade its way out of its economic woes

From Lord Jones of Birmingham.

Sir, Sir Tony Brenton (Letters, July 23) highlights “the centrality of commercial work” to the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office over his 33 years of service. Many a businessman and woman trading overseas in the 1980s and 1990s would disagree, dealing with UK officials who showed with patronising disinterest that they felt trade was beneath them – at best a necessary evil.

As the new director-general of the CBI in 2000 I made this very clear to the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, who observed that the creation of an organisation based in both the FCO and the Department of Trade and Industry was proof that the government meant business. The next decade saw a huge shift in focus attitude at UK overseas posts (to a level Sir Tony clearly thought was the case decades before) and today’s highly successful UK Trade & Investment continues to deliver for the UK taxpayer.

If the country is to get out of its economic woes it must trade its way out. So this is the time for the government to make a reality of the politicians’ fine words with more (not less, as is currently planned) help for UKTI in our 30 key overseas markets; with more fiscal advisory help for small businesses exporting for the first time; and, most importantly, insistence from No. 10 that every department and quango has to look at what it does through the prism of how commercial success can be delivered for every taxpayer’s pound it spends.

That includes the Department for International Development, which had no intention of linking the hard-earned UK taxpayers’ money it doled out in overseas aid to any form of benefit for the jobs of the people who paid the tax and to the success of UK business from which the tax came in the first place.

The “commercial diplomacy” initiative of this government is excellent, but as always, the proof of the pudding ...

Digby Jones,

Temple Grafton, Warwicks, UK

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