Below is the text of the speech made by Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, on 16 March 2018.
It’s a pleasure to be here at Thomson-Reuters with our close friends at British American Business – an organisation whose very existence is testament to the close and enduring ties between our 2 countries.
And, as always, it’s great to be in the United States, a country with which the United Kingdom has so much in common and shares such a strong and enduring bond.
If you read some sections of the international press, it might seem as though the UK is entering an economic meltdown, with uncertainty around the Brexit process driving commerce and investment away from our shores.
It is an interesting hypothesis, but unfortunately for those commentators, one refuted by simple facts.
In 2017, we saw the highest level of foreign direct investment projects landing in the United Kingdom in our history – hardly the hallmark of an economic slowdown.
This was matched by an increase of some 14% in the value of our exports.
In the year to October 2017 some £617 billion of British goods and services were sold overseas, narrowing the UK’s trade deficit by just under £11 billion.
Partly as a result of this improved export performance, order books for British manufacturers are stronger than at any time since August 1988.
We also saw a continued explosion of interest in British tech and innovation.
The UK boasts some 58,000 technology firms. In the last year, more venture capital was invested in London than in Germany, France, Spain and Ireland combined.
All of this adds up to an extremely positive picture for the British economy – an economy that already boasts record employment levels.
Many of these are down to the record number of new investment projects that I mentioned earlier.
These have contributed almost 108,000 new and safeguarded jobs to the UK employment market in 2016/17.
My Department for International Trade regularly surveys the largest foreign direct investors in the UK economy.
The fundamental reasons they give for investing in the country are always the same.
We have a highly skilled workforce, produced by some of the world’s finest universities.
We have a low tax, well regulated economy which fosters innovation and supports tech start-ups, and we have world-renowned legal system and protections for intellectual property.
Like you, we speak English. We are in the right time zone to trade with the Asia in the morning and the United States in the afternoon.
Those tech companies I mentioned earlier are reassured by our robust intellectual property laws – fundamentally, companies across the world trust the UK to protect their investments.
Our success does not, of course, mean that there won’t be challenges ahead. And I appreciate that firms often crave continuity, and Brexit of course represents a break with the past.
But the referendum result was not a signal of impending insularity.
Rather, it was driven by the democratic principle that laws governing your life should be made in your own country, by people you have elected – a principal that you, our American cousins well understand.
So I want to inject a note of reassurance and optimism. Britain is not turning away from the world. We are not turning away from Europe either – or the economic, political or personal bonds that have evolved over centuries.
All we are doing is leaving the European Union.
Brexit will open far more doors for Britain than it closes. For the first time in more than 4 decades, we will have an independent trade policy, that we can shape to meet the needs of our businesses, and those of our partners operating on UK soil.
It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the UK to tap into the changing realities of global trade and ensure our future prosperity.
In 2006, around 60% of the UK’s exports went to other EU countries. By 2020, this is predicted to fall below 40%.
Cooperation and alignment will continue where necessary, but we should also strengthen our ties to our most important global trading partners, including the United States.
The UK intends to be a global champion of trading freedoms, working both unilaterally and within international bodies such as the WTO to erode and remove barriers to trade.
Free trade is fundamentally beneficial to mankind. And there’s a good reason for us to believe this.
Both our countries have benefited enormously from open, capitalist economies. We are standing in one of the greatest cities on earth – built on the back of business, commerce and trade.
The core insight of capitalism is that competition drives improvement and if competition is so good, why would you stop it at your border?
History tells us that, when we trade more and welcome competition, we find that we all benefit –individuals, companies and countries.
It benefits us as consumers to get more choice.
It benefits industry as a whole – competition encourages innovation.
And it has wider benefits. Britain and the United States have the world’s 2 largest foreign aid programmes.
But as generous as they are, free markets have lifted more people out of poverty than every aid programme and charity combined.
According to the World Bank the years 1981 to 2011 witnessed the greatest reduction in poverty in human history – it is no accident that those were the years when China opened-up and the Soviet Union fell.
Of course, free trade does not mean trade without rules. It is entirely legitimate for states to take measures to protect against unfair dumping from abroad – we’re currently taking a Trade Bill through Parliament that will protect our ability to do just that.
But in the long run, it is better for everyone involved if we resolve disputes multilaterally – that’s why we called for the G20 meeting in November at which this issue was discussed.
We look forward to continuing to work closely with the United States and our allies around the world for co-operation on issues of mutual concern.
Make no mistake – trade with America is one of Britain’s top priorities. How could it not be, when America is our single largest export market? Exports to America are twice those to Germany, our next largest market.
That is why we are investing so much effort here: my department, the Department for International Trade, has staff in 11 locations across the United States.
We are making as a government, up to $7 available billion in export finance for companies trading here.
And we are working closely with the American government.
Our joint Trade and Investment Working Group has been discussing issues such as encouraging small business exports, the technical transfer of existing EU-US agreements, and cooperation on financial regulation. It will hold its third meeting later this month.
And we’re partnering on technology. American firms will be crucial to the success of a future British spaceport, and we are following up this month’s successful multilateral space forum by sending teams to major industry events such as the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
In September we signed our first ever Science and Technology agreement, which began with us putting £65 million into a project at South Dakota to explore the physics of the early universe.
So Britain is not turning inwards. We will have an independent voice at the World Trade Organization, and we will use that voice to push for more trade, more openness and a deeper and stronger liberal trading system.
We will continue to have areas of policy where our interests coincide with the EU but we need to be free to pursue our own national interests where they differ.
And because we believe in free trade, our interests are not in opposition to other countries – trade is not a zero-sum game.
Open trade with Britain is in America’s interests and we have hundreds of billions invested in each other’s economies, maintaining jobs across both our nations.
British companies create more jobs in America than firms from any other nation. In fact, UK companies employ over a million people in America and US companies employ over a million people in the UK.
Trade and investment flows benefit both countries, I believe that politicians and business leaders in America appreciate this fact, judging by the number of positive comments about UK trade from members of Congress from both parties that I met yesterday in Washington.
As you would expect, one of the reasons I’m in the US is to talk about steel. We are, of course, disappointed by the recent decision to raise import taxes on steel and aluminium.
And this is an issue the Prime Minister and I have both discussed with the administration on a number of occasions.
I am confident that, together, we will find a solution that reflects the reality of the strong national security and trade relationship that exists between the UK and the United States, and indeed between the wider EU and the United States. A solution that preserves the economic, commercial and security interests of us all.
My department is helping to emphasise to political leaders across the US just how valuable those mutual interests are.
Last year we published an analysis of the importance of UK trade to every single congressional district.
For example, in the New York Tri-State area including Pennsylvania goods exports to the UK are worth approximately $7.8 billion a year.
Service exports to the UK are approximately $15.1 billion.
And 1,873 UK companies employ around 224,000 American citizens.
To put it simply, our economic relationship is invaluable.
The commercial bonds between the US and the UK are strengthened by cultural and personal ties.
800,000 of our citizens live in each other’s countries.
We speak the same language, almost – remember that there’s no other country America can trade with that has as many native English speakers as the UK.
We are one of the few major economies to use the same legal system as you, or vice versa depending on your view of history. That makes things easier when you choose to invest.
But it’s important we maintain those links – we cannot afford to let them atrophy under any circumstances, politics or economics.
That is why I am here this week. And that is why I’d like to thank British American Business for all the work you and your members do to cultivate these vital links.
Britain and America are an outstanding partnership, and what we have done together has truly shaped the world.