Hugo Swire – 2018 Speech on the Maldives

Below is the text of the speech made by Hugo Swire, the Conservative MP for East Devon, in the House of Commons on 6 March 2018.

I am extremely grateful to have secured this Adjournment debate on the topical and important issue of the current political situation in the Maldives. On 1 February, the full bench of the Supreme Court in the Maldives ordered the retrial of cases against nine political leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed, labelling their trials politically influenced. The Supreme Court also ruled that 12 Opposition MPs, barred from Parliament by the Elections Commission, must be allowed to retake their seats, thus handing the opposition a majority in Parliament, which has the power to impeach the President.

The Maldives police service immediately announced that it would comply with the Supreme Court ruling. Over the next two days, President Yameen fired the police chief, fired his replacement, and installed a third police chief. On 5 February, President Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency. Masked security officials broke through the doors of the Supreme Court and physically dragged the chief justice away and threw him in detention. Another Supreme Court justice was also detained and thrown in jail. Former President Gayoom, Yameen’s half-brother, was also detained.

The remaining three Supreme Court Judges then overruled the 1 February judgment, despite it being unconstitutional for a three-bench court to overturn the decision of the full bench. On 20 February, President Yameen petitioned parliament to extend the state of emergency by 30 days. However, the ruling party was unable to gain a quorum in Parliament. Just 40 MPs attended Parliament; a quorum demands 43, but President Yameen announced the state of emergency extension regardless. The prosecutor general has publicly declared the state of emergency extension to be unconstitutional.

Despite the state of emergency and a 10.30 pm curfew in Malé, daily anti-Government protests have spread across the Maldives and have now entered their fourth week. Riot police have severely beaten numerous protesters, hospitalising many. A total of 110 individuals have been arrested since the declaration of the state of emergency and 31 of these are being held without trial under state of emergency rules. There are growing divisions in the security services. Some 50 military and police officials are being detained either at their barracks incommunicado or in detention centres. Four Members of Parliament are currently in detention.

Why should any of this be of interest to the United Kingdom? I would like to make four points this evening; the first concerns radicalisation. President Yameen continues to collude with a network of radical Islamists in the Maldives who are suspected of carrying out 26 murders over the past few years.

​Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) rose

Sir Hugo Swire I give way to the hon. Gentleman— I suspect that I know which angle he is coming from.

Jim Shannon I think the right hon. Gentleman knows exactly which angle I am coming from. I congratulate him on securing the debate. He will be aware of the religious persecution that is clearly taking place in the Maldives. Some of my constituents went there on holiday. One was imprisoned and sent back home, because he took his Bible with him and read it. It is against the law for someone to read a Bible, be a Christian and practise their religion in the Maldives. Is that not another example of the human rights abuses carried out in the Maldives, in this case, against those of a religious and Christian belief?

Sir Hugo Swire This is the great dilemma of the Maldives. It is, on the one hand, an Islamic country, but on the other it is host to many hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, on whom it depends and who should be free to practise their own religion, even if they are on holiday.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con) President Mohamed Nasheed was the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, and he was elected after years of having been tortured and abused in that country’s jails by his predecessor. He was a great leader, famously closing the political prisons and holding his first Cabinet meeting underwater to highlight climate change. He was a truly progressive, secular leader in a democratic country. Does my right hon. Friend not share my tremendous sadness at how far this country has fallen at the hands of utterly corrupt and malignant forces?

Sir Hugo Swire My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right and I shall go on to say something about this. I very much see the former President Mohamed Nasheed having a role in the future of the Maldives, along with others who have sometimes been his political opponents. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

There have been murders of prominent liberal bloggers and journalists, too. In late September last year Her Majesty’s Government warned that terrorists were “very likely” to carry out an attack on the islands. I understand that this is also the current travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Allegedly, between 200 and 250 Maldivians are either fighting or have fought in Syria and Iraq. US Assistant Secretary of State, Alice Wells, claimed that the Maldives was the highest foreign fighter contributor per capita to the so-called Islamic State.

Much of the recruiting and radicalisation is promoted by websites such as Bilad al-Sham Media, and Facebook and other social media are more accessible than ever on the remote islands that make up the country.

My second point concerns the safety of our British tourists. The United Kingdom ranks third in a list of visitors to the Maldives in 2016, behind Germany and China, with 7.9% of market share and more than 100,000 visitors. This was an increase of 9.8% compared with 2015.

The Maldives economy remains a tourism driven economy in that it contributes more than 25% of the country’s GDP. While the tourism sector supplies more ​than 70% of the foreign exchange earnings to the country, one third of the Government revenue is generated from this sector. Tourism is also known as the leading employment generator in the country. In 2016, tourism contributed 36.4% to the Government revenue. But as a result of the current situation, the Maldives is facing financial ruin, with the tourism industry estimated to be losing $20 million a day since the start of the state of emergency. If the trend continues, it will lead to unemployment and dissatisfaction, to my way of thinking both active recruiting sergeants for radicalisation, and with our tourists spread out over 115 square miles in 105 resorts it is almost impossible to guarantee their safety.

My third point concerns the Commonwealth. After 30 years of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s rule, it was President Nasheed who introduced democracy into the Maldives. From 1982, it was a welcome member of the Commonwealth family. It was President Yameen who took the country out of the Commonwealth in 2016.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP) I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and draw Members’ attention to my registered interests on the Maldives. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to draw some attention to the fact that the United Kingdom’s reach on the Maldives has declined somewhat because it has left the Commonwealth? What can we do to rebuild that relationship, working with the ambassador, who is based in Europe? What can we do to rebuild the relationship with the Government for the very reasons the right hon. Gentleman has outlined—to make the country more prosperous and, more importantly, to turn it away from what would be a terrible plight if his predictions came true?

Sir Hugo Swire Indeed, and two of the surrounding countries, Sri Lanka and India, are members of the Commonwealth. I will say later in my speech that, although I believe much needs to be done before the Maldives comes back into the Commonwealth, its proper place is back in the Commonwealth family.

President Yameen’s unconstitutional behaviour has seen him arrest three lawmakers and instigate a witch hunt of the families of his political opponents, including wives and children. President Maumoon and the justices at the supreme court have been charged with treason and bribery, and access to lawyers and family has been restricted, with reports of ill-treatment. Following the arrest of President Gayoom, all the leaders of the opposition political parties are under detention, or have been sentenced under similar trumped-up charges. The Government continue to defend their actions, claiming that state-of-emergency powers are applicable only to those who are believed to have planned or carried out illegal acts in conjunction with the 1 February Supreme Court ruling. That has led to increasingly politicised targeting of the opposition by security services.

President Gayoom’s daughter, Dunya, resigned last week as the state health Minister, and has herself now appealed for support from the international community. I hope very much that she will work with former President Nasheed and other members of the opposition, and that they will come together to chart a democratic future for the country—a future, hopefully, back in the Commonwealth family.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con) My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does he agree that a situation under the guise of a state of emergency in which judges are arrested, the normal business of courts is suspended, Members of Parliament are arrested and Parliament too is suspended makes a mockery of any notion of democracy, and, furthermore, constitutes an affront to human rights? Should not Members on both sides of the House of Commons condemn that action in the strongest possible terms?

Sir Hugo Swire My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Unfortunately, there can be no pretence that democracy is alive in the Maldives at the moment.

The Maldives Government also continue to condemn foreign criticism of their actions—no doubt they will now be criticising my right hon. Friend for his intervention—asking members of the international community not to chastise them publicly, and to visit the Maldives to assess the situation on the ground for themselves. However, when a delegation of EU Heads of Missions did visit Malé, the Government refused to meet them. Similarly, members of a delegation from LAWASIA—the Law Association for Asia and the Pacific—were detained and deported on their arrival at the airport in Malé on Tuesday, 27 February, although they had informed relevant Government authorities in ample time of their intention to visit.

My fourth point concerns the possibility of regional conflict. In recent years, China has been sending more tourists to the islands and investing in the economy. In neighbouring Sri Lanka, we see China building a port at Hambantota, an 11,500-foot runway capable of taking an Airbus A380, and docks where oil tankers can refuel. That has caused understandable nervousness in India, and it is difficult to believe that the Indians will allow the Chinese to gain a similar foothold in the Maldives. It is also reported that the Japanese navy recently spotted a Maldivian-registered tanker, which allegedly is linked to President Yameen’s nephew, transferring suspected crude oil to a North Korean tanker, in violation of UN sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to that.

I have seen the statement put out by the European External Action Service on 6 February and the Foreign Secretary’s statement of 5 February, but will Her Majesty’s Government now go further, building on the calls made on the Government of the Maldives by the International Democrat Union on 21 February? Will they call for the release of, and access to lawyers for, all political prisoners? Will they lobby for a UN-backed mission, led by someone like Kofi Annan, to go to the Maldives without delay? Will they call for free and properly convened elections later this year, to be overseen by an international body? Will they provide support and assistance in the wholesale reform of judges and the judicial system? Will they work with other like-minded countries to counter Islamic radicalisation in the Maldives? Will they raise the issue of the Maldives at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting here in London in April? Will they ask the opposition parties to provide a list of resorts owned by President Yameen’s circle, so that they can be publicised and boycotted in the event of none of the above happening? At the same time, will they put plans in place to increase targeted sanctions against the Yameen regime if the Supreme Court ruling is not fully implemented?​

As we exit the European Union, this is a good opportunity for the United Kingdom to show that we have our own foreign policy, and are working with like-minded friends.

Hugo Swire – 2016 Speech on the EU and the Commonwealth


Below is the text of the speech made by Hugo Swire, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at Chatham House on 25 May 2016.


Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for that kind introduction. I am delighted to be back at Chatham House. Given that Her Majesty the Queen is your Patron and Baroness Scotland is one of your Presidents, it is particularly appropriate that I am speaking to you today about the Commonwealth – and about why being in the EU complements our membership.

Today I want to debunk a myth. The myth that UK membership of the EU somehow limits our engagement with the Commonwealth. I will argue that it enhances it. Some believe that if we left the EU, UK-Commonwealth trade would increase and migration flows rebalance in favour of Commonwealth countries. I maintain this is wishful thinking. Others suggest that we should choose between the two institutions. I maintain that they are complementary. It is not an either-or choice. The UK needs and can have both.

Importance of the Commonwealth to the UK

This Government has made clear that the Commonwealth is of immense importance to the United Kingdom. No matter how you look at the relationship – historic, cultural, or our personal ties – our connection with the Commonwealth is stronger now than ever. The fact that Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK have the right to vote in the forthcoming referendum shows just how close that connection is.

Our commitment to the Commonwealth is clear. A large part of the UK’s aid budget is spent in Commonwealth countries – £1.88 billion in 2013-14. We remain the largest contributor to the Commonwealth Secretariat. And we are looking forward to hosting the first ever meeting of Commonwealth trade ministers in 2017 and the next CHOGM the year after that.

And the Commonwealth itself is thriving. From eight member countries in 1949, it has grown to 53. It now covers nearly a quarter of the world’s land mass and more than a third of its people. It boasts a combined Gross National Income of $10.7 trillion. The Commonwealth thrives because of its great diversity. Whether large or small, developed or developing, frozen ice or tropical heat – the Commonwealth has it all. But it also thrives because, at heart, we have so much in common. Trade, for instance, is on average 19% cheaper between Commonwealth countries due to similarities in our legal systems and language. Being a core part of it is clearly in our national interest.

Could Brexit benefit the Commonwealth?

So, if we value the Commonwealth, and know that it is going from strength to strength, does this mean we should focus on it – to the exclusion of the EU? Let’s examine the arguments.


First, there’s the argument on migration. Some argue that leaving the EU would allow greater migration from the Commonwealth. Frankly, I believe it is naïve to think that the same people campaigning for Brexit would welcome this.

And what possible basis do they have for making such an assertion? Because – let’s remember – it is up to the UK, not the EU, to decide who is allowed to come to this country from outside the EU. Our membership of the EU does not prevent Commonwealth citizens from coming to the UK. Anyone suggesting that it would be different or easier is just raising false hopes by suggesting we would water down those criteria. It is frankly irresponsible, misleading and unhelpful.

Nor should we forget that, if we did leave the EU, keeping full and meaningful access to the Single Market would also mean accepting significant trade-offs, including the continued free movement of people. No other country has managed one without the other.


Secondly, there is the creeping narrative promoted by the Brexiteers that somehow the Commonwealth can replace the EU as the UK’s major trading partner. That is a leap of faith with no basis in fact. Access to the Single Market is a cornerstone of the UK’s prosperity. 44% of what we export goes to the European Union, with 3 million jobs in the UK dependent in some way on trade with the Single Market.

And it ignores what our EU membership does to facilitate trade with the Commonwealth. Access to the Single Market doesn’t just matter to UK businesses and the UK’s economic future. It matters to the Commonwealth too.

As businesses up and down the country will attest, we are a gateway to trade with the EU, as well as an important market in our own right. It’s the reason why Australia is a disproportionately large investor in the UK for the size of its economy. India too sees this gateway role as vital. Prime Minister Modi during his visit to the UK last November said “As far as India is concerned, if there is an entry point for us to the European Union that is the UK”. And the head of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry agreed, adding that: “we firmly believe that leaving the EU would create considerable uncertainty for Indian businesses engaged with the UK and would possibly have an adverse impact on investment and movement of professionals to the UK.”

A third argument centres around the idea of a Commonwealth Free Trade Area. It is certainly a fine aspiration. Ultimately, as a Conservative, I believe that free trade is the engine of global growth – and that a rising tide lifts all ships. But it is quite wrong to suggest that Commonwealth trade might be a substitute for the EU Single Market.

UK Influence within the EU

Rather than turn back the clock to the days of Imperial Preference, we should remind ourselves why the Commonwealth benefits from our close relationship with the EU. Our seat at the EU table gives the Commonwealth a voice – and it is a voice which brings results. UK membership of the EU is creating jobs and driving growth, in Britain and across the Commonwealth. That’s why our Commonwealth allies want us to stay in the EU.

But don’t just take my word for it. A host of Commonwealth leaders have come out and said so. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Britain’s clout is “obviously amplified by its strength as part of the EU”. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has said: “We see Europe as an extremely important continent that needs strong leadership. We think Britain provides that leadership”. Whilst his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull said: “Britain’s involvement in the European Union does provide us – and Australian firms particularly, many of whom are based in the UK – considerable access to that market. From our point of view it is an unalloyed plus for Britain to remain in the EU”.


Let’s look at the reasons why they feel so strongly. Beginning with trade. Today, the EU has, or is negotiating, trade deals with over 80% of Commonwealth countries. The benefits to the Commonwealth of these deals are significant – Canada is expected to benefit to the tune of £5.5 billion a year from CETA – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU.

The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of efforts to deepen the EU’s trading relationships with Commonwealth countries. We were instrumental in getting the Commission’s agreement to begin negotiations on FTAs with Australia and New Zealand. We continue to push for an ambitious Free Trade Agreement with India. And the UK has consistently advocated a pro-development trade policy, arguing for generous market access to the EU market for developing countries in the Commonwealth and beyond.

We strongly supported the granting of GSP+ status to Pakistan – which reduces duty on exports in exchange for progress on governance and human rights; Pakistan’s exports to the EU rose by 20% in the first year of this scheme.

The UK is working with our EU partners to successfully conclude Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations in West Africa and with the East African and South African Development Communities. The EU is Ghana’s 2nd largest trading partner after China. And in South Africa the EU accounts for a quarter of total exports, and is its largest foreign direct investor, with 2,000 EU firms credited with creating 350,000 jobs.

And 14 Commonwealth Least Developed Countries benefit from the EU’s “Everything but Arms” arrangement, which gives them duty-free and quota-free access to the EU for – as it says on the tin – all exports but arms and ammunition.

Just think of the overall leveraging effect of all these deals – this isn’t just access to the UK, but to the whole EU, for all 2.1 billion citizens of the Commonwealth.


And the benefits of our influence go well beyond trade.

The EU is the world’s largest aid donor, promoting stability, human rights and good governance. The UK is seen by EU Member States as the expert on development, which gives us significant influence over EU development policy. We have used the powerful voice this gives us to shape EU development programmes and reinforce our own support for our Commonwealth partners. You only have to look at the numbers to see what this means in practice.

The EU is one of the biggest development partners in Nigeria, with nearly €700 million committed under the last five year development programme, a further half a billion euros under the regional programme, and millions more to support peacekeeping, elections, vaccination programmes and communities affected by Boko Haram violence.

In Kenya, it spends about €80m a year to support job creation and governance. It is South Africa’s main aid partner, accounting for 70% of development assistance and it complements our own cooperation, tackling climate change and sustainable development.

In South Asia too, the EU reinforces UK human rights objectives – lobbying in Bangladesh on child marriage and restrictions on the media and civil society, and in Sri Lanka on the death penalty and LGBTI rights.

In Australia, EU funding has helped UK researchers to collaborate with Australian and South African counterparts on the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, worth €5 million. The EU recently established dialogues with Australia on Counter Terrorism and peacekeeping.

Climate Change

On climate change too the UK has used its influence within the EU to the benefit of the Commonwealth. Adapting to and preventing climate change is, of course, a core development issue. It is also an existential threat to some members of the Commonwealth. You only have to look at some of the Pacific island states like Tuvalu, Kiribati or Vanuatu to see how vulnerable they are to global warming.

The EU has been at the forefront of action on climate change – and the UK has been at the forefront of the EU, helping to ensure greater momentum on the issue and a better outcome at the Paris conference. We led the way with climate legislation in 2008 and have blazed a path for others to follow – between 2000 and 2014 UK GDP grew by 27%, while carbon dioxide emissions fell by 20%.

Acting as part of a 500 million-strong EU bloc increases our global influence. This benefits the entire Commonwealth, in particular Commonwealth Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.

So it is clear that, right across the Commonwealth, the EU is deploying its significant resources to good effect. And it is just as clear that the UK has played and continues to play a vital role in pivoting the EU towards the Commonwealth. All these examples demonstrate what our Commonwealth partners have to gain from the UK remaining an active member of the EU: defending open markets and pushing for effective action on poverty, climate change and other shared challenges.

Voter registration

So the outcome of the referendum will affect the lives and futures not just of British citizens, but of Commonwealth citizens too. Those of them with leave to remain in the UK have the right to vote in the referendum, and a say over that future. So my message to the 200,000 South Africans and Nigerians, the 160,000 Jamaicans and the 126,000 Australians – not to mention the more than 3 million members of our British South Asian communities – my message to you is: this referendum matters to you as well as to us. Your vote will make a difference: unlike in a general election, every vote will have equal weight. Please exercise your right. Please get out and vote.


To sum up, the UK is, and has always been, a nation of traders, reaching out to all corners of the world. The Commonwealth is a vibrant, impressive institution, with 2.1 billion people and enormous potential. The EU is a global trading powerhouse, with significant economic muscle. Our Commonwealth allies know that the UK – together with the other Commonwealth members of the EU – Malta and Cyprus – are influential partners within a powerful organisation. This has been reinforced to me throughout my travels across the Commonwealth. We are their voice on the inside.

I have the words used by the Roman statesman Cicero inscribed on my pen: cui bono – who benefits? And here I readily admit that I leave myself open to accusations of pretentiousness but it is useful to pause and think before signing anything. And so I am here to ask you – would the Commonwealth benefit if we left the EU? The answer, to me, is a clear No. Because far from conflicting, these two great institutions are complementary. Far from solving problems on trade and migration, leaving the EU would create them. Far from having to make a compromise – we should be in both. As I have said many times – there is no need to choose.

Ladies and Gentlemen, some have suggested that Brexit is a patriotic cause. And to argue for the UK to remain in the EU is somehow unpatriotic. I reject that entirely. I, as Britain’s Minister for the Commonwealth, believe that the patriotic thing to do is what is in our country’s long term interests. And I believe these interests are best served by re-committing to the Commonwealth and to a reformed EU.

Thank you.

Hugo Swire – 2016 Speech on Chile Day


Below is the text of the speech made by Hugo Swire, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on 13 May 2016.

President Bachelet, Lord Mayor, Foreign Minister Muñoz, Ministers, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. As this year’s Chile Day comes to an end here at Mansion House, it is a good moment to reflect on our engagement with Chile and Latin America since the first Chile Day six years ago.

Since the first Chile Day in 2010, we have re-engaged substantively with the whole of Latin America, under our Canning Agenda. We have increased our Royal and Ministerial visits, and increased our footprint, opening new Embassies and Consulates and boosting the numbers of staff working on trade and investment –including in Chile.

The enduring strength of our friendship with Chile is reflected in the breadth of our cooperation today. We share the same free trade, free market approach. We hold similar views on a variety of subjects from the Antarctic to peacekeeping; from human rights to education. Chile is an important partner in humanitarian relief, peacekeeping and global defence interests. We worked closely together on Syria during Chile’s UN Security Council chairmanship last year. We were proud to support Chile’s initiatives on women and LGBTI rights in the Human Rights Council.

And our relationship looks to the future – through the Newton-Picarté Fund our science and innovation collaboration is second to none in the region. The Chilean Government’s match funding has been especially effective in making this a real partnership. And this year, we were pleased to announce a substantial increase in our package of support to Chile through our Prosperity Fund. We will spend more than £1 million this year on projects supporting a wide range of fields, from renewable energy and green finance to sustainable mining; from energy efficiency and environmental governance to smart cities.

The strength of our cooperation is also reflected not only in our growing education exchanges but also in the number of important agreements we have signed at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office this morning. These covered mutual recognition of qualifications;the use of satellite technology to tackle issues, of which one of the most important is illegal fishing; co-operation between our Diplomatic Academies; and Building Information Modelling, a UK innovation which helps to make construction more efficient and cost effective.

In addition to all this we look forward to ever greater cooperation in Antarctica.

And our bilateral trade has also grown. British exports of goods and services to Chile reached one and a quarter billion pounds in 2014, and Chile’s investments in the UK are also growing, in IT, food and drink and Financial Services.

As you all know, the City of London is the world’s pre-eminent financial centre. Ranked first in the global financial centres index. The reason is London’s unique cluster of services – at the forefront of every field. It is a one-stop shop for all business needs – whether that is financial and legal services or expertise in planning, delivering and managing infrastructure over the whole life-cycle of a project.

It is in this context that I am pleased Chile chose to hold Chile Day in London for the sixth consecutive year. And we look forward to welcoming you back next year, I am sure!

When the Lord Mayor was in Santiago last month, he invited Chilean businesses – particularly SME’s in the growing technology sector – to use the liquidity and capital of London’s markets and to take advantage of London’s expertise.

Following his visit, we are matching a number of opportunities in Chile with areas where we do have particular expertise, such as green finance and financial services, in addition to the strong existing cooperation in sectors such as mining. As the industry becomes more sophisticated and environmentally aware, so the opportunities grow for more cooperation.

The role of the Chilean Government has been vital in all this. It has pursued sound economic policies that have enabled Chile to withstand the challenges of the global economic downturn. And it has set a clear strategic direction, with its membership of the free trade, free-market oriented Pacific Alliance. I wish President Bachelet and Chile well as they take over the Chair of the Alliance next month. The United Kingdom is an active observer of the Alliance and we will continue to work with them on the agreed priorities of education, innovation and competition.

I would like to thank the Lord Mayor and the Corporation for hosting Chile Day in these unmatchable surroundings. And I will finish by saying to President Bachelet that we have been honoured and delighted to welcome you. Your presence, and that of so many of your Ministers and the Governor of you Central Bank, has made this a very special Chile Day. Your visit to London has even greater significance, as an illustration of our shared goal to further strengthen the relationship between our two countries. We will now – Government and private sector alike – be working to build on your visit here and to take that relationship to a new level.

President Bachelet, I know you have great ambitions for Chile. As one of your oldest friends, we want to work with you to help you to achieve those goals. Thank you for coming here today.

Hugo Swire – 2016 Speech on the Pacific Partnership


Below is the text of the speech made by Hugo Swire, the Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, on 18 April 2016 in Washington DC, United States.

It’s great to be back here in the US. I’ve just come from four days in Texas, where as you would expect there was much talk of the Presidential election, which we are all following closely in the UK, and I suspect some of you are following developments in the UK as well. Last time I spoke in Washington on this theme, was two years ago, I set out what the Asian Century means to the UK. This time I want to make a more specific proposition.

That proposition is as follows. In the 20th Century, the UK and US co-operated alongside others to establish the modern, rules-based, international system; one based on a primarily Trans-Atlantic set of issues. In the 21st Century, we need to cooperate more in a different geography – an Asia Pacific one; and this time, instead of creating an international system, we need to work to ensure that the current system evolves to remain effective and relevant and that new powers are bound in to the rules.

To achieve this, we, like the US, will need to work even more closely with allies and partners, both in and beyond the region. Of course, in the US you have had a substantial presence in Asia Pacific for decades, which you have strengthened in recent years through the Rebalance. Defence Secretary Carter’s visit last week reaffirmed once more that the region commands senior US attention. We in the UK have also recognised and acted on the need to shift more of our diplomatic focus and tools to Asia Pacific.

Last week the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, visited Hong Kong, China, Japan and Vietnam – his fourth visit to East Asia in the space of sixteen months. The regularity of his visits to the region reflects our commitment. The spread of countries he has visited demonstrates the span of our interest, across the whole region, not just any one country. In my four years as Minister for Asia, I have sought to ensure that we have dedicated the necessary resource to support our All of Asia commitment, and to encourage my Ministerial colleagues to make regular visits to the region.

Trade is an important part of that equation. We have been a leading European voice in championing free trade with Asia Pacific and worldwide. Today, the UK also benefits from our EU membership to secure our trade interests and increase our influence. The direct benefits that flow through trade deals are essential to our prosperity. UK exports under the EU-Korea Free trade agreement, for example, more than doubled between 2011 and 2014, to over $6 billion. We are selling ten times more jet engines to South Korea than we were in 2011, and car exports are up 87%. The US and EU objectives on trade are complementary: we are seeking better market access, fewer restrictions on our investments and better and more predictable environments for business. As the US pursues TPP to push up standards in these areas, so the UK leads the EU to seek similar outcomes with the economies of the region. But trade is only part of the equation.

We are all familiar with joint UK and US diplomatic efforts in many parts of the world, such as stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, or standing up to a revanchist Russia. But we are less accustomed to discussing our partnership in the Pacific. I want that to become as normal and frequent as our discussions of Trans-Atlantic challenges.

Let me pause for a moment to reflect on a truly symbolic event which took place one week ago in Hiroshima. Your Secretary of State, John Kerry, stood beside our Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, at the Peace Park. With the benefit of many decades of hindsight, we can see what a national catastrophe the Second World War was for Japan. We can also see how difficult it remains, even 70 years on, to achieve full reconciliation in Asia.

So this year, with Japan chairing the G7 group of like-minded partners, and Allied Ministers visiting Hiroshima, shows us how far we have come to re-establish trust and partnership.

This trust and partnership is not just an intellectual exercise. Last year Japan passed significant new security legislation which removes the final legal barrier to a more proactive Japanese posture overseas, and allows for a greater Japanese contribution to international security. We welcome that move, and encourage Japanese involvement in global security challenges. In this vein, we support Japan’s bid for a permanent Security Council seat. We are deepening our security co-operation, with the first UK-Japan air force exercise due in the autumn, involving an RAF Typhoon squadron. That exercise was announced by Foreign and Defence Ministers after the second round of UK-Japan security and defence talks in Tokyo. Incidentally, whilst in Tokyo the Ministers visited the US naval aircraft carrier ‘USS Ronald Reagan’ in Tokyo harbour.

And also this year, the G20 group of major economies is hosted by China. This group, which was forged during the most serious global economic crisis since the great depression, seemed radical eight years ago. Would such a disparate grouping have the coherence and common purpose to contribute to global goods and stability? Today, we look at China, the world’s second largest economy, accounting for around one third of all global growth, and take for granted its important role in shaping global economic policy.

In recent years we have reformed voting in the Bretton Woods institutions to give China a louder voice, in line with its increased contributions. The launch of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank in January this year has demonstrated that China could successfully initiate a new international institution that will adhere to international standards of best practice, as is clear from its recently published environmental and social framework. The fact it will be a genuinely multinational and democratic body is due in large part to the role that the UK, working with others, played in shaping its formation. The AIIB will be complementary to existing multilateral banks, most notably the Asian Development Bank, with which it will co-finance its initial projects. We are well represented within the Bank, with former Chief Secretary to the Treasury Sir Danny Alexander appointed Vice President, and the UK leading a constituency of non-Eurozone European countries. China wants to play an increased role in the international system, and it has the will and wherewithal to do so. Our engagement, constructive criticism and sharing of expertise are crucial to ensure that this enhances the existing system, rather than undermining it.

The dynamic shift under way in Asia Pacific is not simply a question of great power politics: it reflects important trends within nations. Another recent development with implications for the wider region and beyond is the democratic election of a new National League for Democracy Government in Burma, marking a return to democracy after decades of military rule. The release of political prisoners over the last week is a welcome sign of that return to democracy and an important step forward for the new government. We will be encouraging the new government to build on this early demonstration of commitment to human rights and rule of law, and providing practical support.

Beginning to tackle the issue of Rakhine and the appalling treatment of the Rohingya community will be a particular test of the NLD-led administration. Alongside the US, the UK has played a leading role in keeping Rakhine in the international spotlight. While the solution to Rakhine must come from within Burma itself, there is a supporting role for the UK and likeminded states. We have been clear that the new government must use its substantial mandate to begin making progress.

The other pressing issue facing Burma’s new government will be reinvigorating the process seeking to bring an end to more than fifty years of conflict. We have played a lead role in supporting the peace process, and we are offering continued support to the new NLD-led administration. Burma’s transition is a good sign for the wider region, where democratic institutions are not always succeeding. The UK has pursued agile diplomacy and development support, together with the US, and it has paid off.

Of course Burma’s is not the only reconciliation process going on in the region. In Cambodia we support the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to ensure there can be no impunity for the worst of crimes. This is a vital mechanism for the Cambodian people to establish the truth and bring about reconciliation between communities, as well as an important ingredient to build a peaceful and inclusive society, and we believe it sends a strong message on accountability and fundamental Human Rights in the region.

I do not want to give the impression that we think everything across Asia Pacific is inexorably moving in the right direction. The regime in North Korea has shown in recent days that it remains dangerously willing to provoke its neighbours and a very real threat to regional and global security. The failed launch of its intermediate ballistic missile on Friday is just another example of this increasingly provocative behaviour. North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons remains a gravely concerning international issue: proactive UK diplomacy and engagement with the regime is used to deliver frank and robust messages, in support of the international concern that this programme is halted.

We must exert pressure through sanctions on the North Korean regime to deter it from this dangerous pursuit of nuclear weapons, and be united in condemning the continued violation of UN Security Council Resolutions by the regime. The UK worked closely with the US in securing the latest UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which contained some of the toughest measures yet – designed to restrict technology transfers and impede efforts to secure a deployable nuclear weapon. We are working alongside the US to ensure that others implement it fully and effectively.

Through our Embassy in North Korea we pursue a policy of critical engagement, taking every opportunity to send tough messages to the regime about its nuclear programme and appalling human rights record. It is unconscionable that amid reports of widespread hardship amongst the North Korean people and human rights abuses committed by the state, the regime continues to prioritise the development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes over the well-being of its own people. We cannot rule out dialogue or even a return to talks, but North Korea should be very clear that this can only happen if de-nuclearisation is firmly on the agenda.

Elsewhere in the region, the growing tensions in the South China Sea are driven by an assertive Chinese approach, demonstrated by an increase in land reclamation and militarisation. This is worrying for regional stability, for the principle of freedom of navigation, and for the rules-based international system on which we all rely. The visit last week of a high-level delegation of Chinese military officers led by General Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, to the Spratly Islands, will do little to calm those rising tensions. The G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on Maritime Security last week was an important signal to all claimants, setting out the expectation of the international community for a rules-based approach to the disputes.

Like the US, the UK does not take a position on the underlying sovereignty claims, but we do take a firm view on how those claims should be pursued. Disputes should be settled peacefully and in line with international law, and any actions liable to raise tensions, including militarisation, should be avoided. The maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight is non-negotiable. We recognise and support the US role in defending those principles in Asia Pacific, a role we saw reinforced just last week when Defense Secretary Carter visited the region.

We are following closely the arbitration case in The Hague brought by the Philippines. We consider any ruling to be binding on all parties, as provided for by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We also see the ruling as an opportunity for the governments in China and the Philippines, be it under the current or next administration, to engage constructively in renewed dialogue. In our response to this ruling, the UK will stand alongside the US and the wider international community.

I have focused so far on security challenges because these are the issues where the costs of miscalculation are highest. To ensure a consistent approach, we are strengthening security relationships with our Asia Pacific partners, including those who are our traditional allies, such as Australia and New Zealand, who bring an increasing range of assets and influence to bear in Asia Pacific. We are deepening our security relationship with the Republic of Korea too, working together on maritime and cyber issues. We recently made our largest ever deployment there for the recent military exercise, ‘Operation Key Resolve’, working closely with the US.

We will continue to speak up loudly in support of rules, and against coercion. We will ensure that the EU remains robust in the same vein. And we will continue to co-ordinate closely with the US as we do so.

Projecting our values

I would also like to touch on the way we project our values in Asia Pacific. The British brand is strong in Asia Pacific in many areas, particularly innovation, creativity and education. This is at the core of our commercial success and we seek to develop that as the emerging middle class grows. But a brand like ours cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs to be based on associations with the protection of rights, freedoms and rule of law. That is why we put effort into promoting values, even in environments where this is difficult.

Our commitment to Hong Kong remains as strong as ever. We have a strong legal interest in the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration to protect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. We have a moral and political responsibility to report to the British Parliament on Hong Kong. We have a commercial interest in an independent judiciary to protect the 126 UK companies headquartered in Hong Kong. And finally we have enduring personal connections, which mean we need the rule of law to ensure the rights and freedoms of Hong Kongers. Most recently, the Foreign Secretary reiterated our concerns in Hong Kong and Beijing over the disappearance from Hong Kong of a British citizen, making clear that it constitutes a breach of the Joint Declaration and calling on China to reinforce its commitment to Hong Kong’s current status under ‘One Country, Two Systems’.

More broadly with China, we continue to take a proactive approach to influencing on human rights and rule of law. We set out our concerns regularly – China will feature in the latest version of our global Human Rights report which will be published this week. We also raised our concerns at the Human Rights Council in Geneva last month. As well as our own national statement, we fully endorsed the statement signed by the US and a broad coalition of states, which made very clear our assessment of China’s deteriorating human rights record.

So Asia Pacific today presents us with cause for celebration and concern. We celebrate its economic rise, its dynamism and the opportunities this presents us, and applaud the work done by so many to embed diplomacy and the rule of law in transitioning nations. Asia Pacific is at the heart of the global system, yet arguable has the potential to fracture the hard-won international system of rules and law, should we not stand up for it.

The UK has already firmly signaled its renewed focus on the region: this focus will continue. We will continue to use agile and smart diplomacy in an Asia-Pacific century to confirm our relationships and build new ones. We will continue to work in partnership to ensure that the order which has served the global community so well for 70 years remains fit for purpose. And we stand side by side with the US in this aim. Thank you.

Hugo Swire – 2016 Speech on Advancing the Rule of Law in China


Below is the text of the speech made by Hugo Swire, the Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, at the Great Britain China Centre on 16 March 2016.


Thank you Martin for that kind introduction, and to the Great Britain China Centre (GBCC) for convening this seminar on ‘Advancing the rule of law in China’, in such auspicious surroundings. Thank you all for coming this afternoon. It’s wonderful to have so much expertise in one room.

Importance of the rule of law

All of us here know how important the rule of law is. It is the cornerstone of an open and fair society; it promotes prosperity and stability; it provides the transparency and legal clarity needed to promote trade and investment; and it ends impunity and improves access to justice for all citizens.

Rule of law enables states to function on behalf of their citizens. Without it, elites can misappropriate a nation’s wealth, abuse power and control access to entitlement. States without the rule of law are often the poorest and most fragile.

Rule of law in China

Whilst we of course recognise that China has made unprecedented improvements in social and economic rights and personal freedoms in the last 30 years, there is no doubt that its application of the rule of law and the Rules Based International System, at home and further afield, continues to present challenges. Recent events in Hong Kong and the South China Sea have raised questions about China’s commitment to the rule of law. The Foreign Secretary raised both these issues with counterparts during his visit to China in January.

Hong Kong

Turning first to Hong Kong. The peaceful return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty under One Country Two Systems was one of the great successes of United Kingdom-China diplomacy. Rule of law is a key part of that system and has been fundamental to Hong Kong’s continued economic success. It is one of the main reasons why British and international businesses have chosen to locate their Asian headquarters in Hong Kong. As long as the rule of law remains in place it makes good business sense.

That is why the upholding of that rule of law remains so fundamental to Hong Kong’s future growth and prosperity. That is also why we are so concerned about the disappearance of British citizen Lee Po and other employees of the Mighty Current publishing house – as the Foreign Secretary set out in our most recent 6 monthly report to Parliament.

Our current information indicates that Lee Po was involuntarily removed to the mainland. This constitutes a serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and undermines the principle of One Country Two Systems. We call again for the immediate return of Lee Po to Hong Kong.

South China Sea

The United Kingdom is also concerned about tensions in the South China Sea and the effect that these could have on regional peace and security, global prosperity – given the $5 trillion worth of trade that passes through it each year, around one-third of global seaborne trade by value – and the principle of freedom of navigation. We are concerned about moves towards militarisation of the South China Sea – most recently the siting of missiles on Woody Island, part of the Paracels – and other unilateral actions, such as large scale land reclamation, that change the facts on the ground.

We do not take sides on sovereignty in the South China Sea. But we do have an interest in the way in which territorial claims are pursued. We want to see claims settled peacefully in line with international law.

So we are watching closely the case launched by the Philippines against China under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United Kingdom fully supports countries’ rights to use these peaceful dispute settlement proceedings, and will respect the outcome of the ruling, as should the rest of the international community. And how China responds will also be seen as a signal of its commitment to the Rules-Based International System.

Domestic issues

We also continue to have significant concerns about a range of civil and political rights issues in China. Access to justice is part of this and that is why it forms an important part of our dialogue and cooperation with China.

We raised our concerns yesterday at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. We regularly report on them as part of our annual Human Rights Report, and we are one of only a handful of countries that insist on an annual human rights dialogue with China, at which we raise both individual and thematic cases. We look forward to the next round of the dialogue, which is scheduled to be held here in the United Kingdom next month.

Why engage on the rule of law?

In this context, I believe there are clear reasons why it is in the United Kingdom’s interest to deepen our rule of law engagement with China. It is the right thing to do to support social and economic equity and growth. It is the right thing to do to support our values and human rights. It is the right thing to do to fight corruption.

It is also the right thing to do for United Kingdom trade. It supports our companies and our people who – like their Chinese counterparts – need certainty and transparency to grow their business, create jobs, boost innovation. This means the provision and implementation of rules for setting up or closing a business, protecting property rights or paying taxes.That is why the United Kingdom has been so successful in attracting investment, not least from China itself, which chooses to invest more in the United Kingdom than anywhere else in Europe.

We believe that developing the rule of law is in China’s interests too, and I am pleased that President Xi Jinping has prioritised it in the third and fourth Plenums. Because as the Chinese economy moves into its next phase of development, it needs to unleash entrepreneurship and innovation on a huge scale. As it does so, economic progress will increasingly depend on the development of the rule of law. This will provide the certainty and the security that investors and entrepreneurs demand.

Rule of law in China – United Kingdom cooperation

The United Kingdom is particularly well placed to engage due to our comparative advantages in this area – from our common law system and the excellent reputation of the judiciary, to our strong legal services sector. Following the strengthening of the United Kingdom-China relationship with the State Visit of President Xi last year, we are now better placed than ever. A good example of this strengthened relationship is the agreement we reached during the State Visit not to support state-sponsored cyber enabled commercial espionage.

We are already making the most of this closer relationship. The United Kingdom is one of China’s primary partners for Intellectual Property cooperation. This has helped shape real change – on civil court procedures, patent protection and copyright enforcement. These changes have been welcomed by British companies, who lose hundreds of millions of pounds every year due to the lack of protection for Intellectual Property.

Plans for future cooperation

It makes sense that we try to take our cooperation further. The Foreign Secretary discussed it with his ministerial counterparts in Beijing earlier this year. Among the areas of collaboration identified were training of judges, judicial reform, and legal clarity for bilateral trade and commerce.

In the next few months, the GBCC will be taking forward an exciting new partnership with the China Law Society. This will build on the GBCC’s excellent work on judicial reform and transparency, and expand the scope of their work in China to support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s wider programme.

In May, Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger will lead the United Kingdom delegation to China for the third United Kingdom-China judicial round-table.

In the same month, the Prime Minister will hold a high level Anti-Corruption Summit. We have been working closely with China on anti-corruption, in the framework of the G20, and look forward to seeing a high-level Chinese representative at the summit.

In June, we will welcome Supreme People’s Court President Zhou Qiang to the United Kingdom to study the development of the common law system.

And in July, Baroness Neville Rolfe, Minister responsible for Intellectual Property at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, will visit China to focus on Intellectual Property issues.

I am delighted that we have recently agreed a new programme of funding to support this new strand of cooperation between the United Kingdom and China. This work will build on our existing cooperation in a wide range of areas from judicial reform and transparency to regulatory reform, from dispute resolution and arbitration to intellectual property, from access to justice to anti-money laundering.

Wider context

Of course there are wider international considerations which make our cooperation with China on the rule of law even more pressing. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China is already a key player in the Rules Based International System. With rapid growth and increased exposure to global economic and political risk, we expect China to play an increasingly active role on the international stage. And we welcome the recent support the Chinese gave to the latest United Nations Security Council Resolution against the continuing ambition of North Korea to develop its nuclear programme.

Part of this will be in shaping multilateral institutions and international law to ensure they are fit for purpose for the 21st century, whether this be the way in which the international financial institutions are governed or the standards that are applied to cross-border procurement.

How we define that phrase – fit for purpose – will be a key task for the United Kingdom, China and others, working together to secure prosperity and security for all of our people. That is why we support efforts to reflect China’s growing economic and political power in multilateral institutions, as well as China’s initiative to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). We have just provided one of the AIIB’s vice presidents, in the form of Sir Danny Alexander, former Chief Secretary to the Treasury.


So to conclude: we have our differences, but these should not in any way preclude us from working together, both to further the rule of law and to develop the international system of governance for the 21st century. There is much that we can learn from each other, much that we can share and much that we can do together to the benefit of both our peoples and the wider world. This is wholly in keeping with our global partnership.

We want China’s reforms to succeed. We do not believe they will unless China demonstrably applies the rule of law and adheres to the International Rules Based International System. We do believe that an enhanced, mutually beneficial partnership on the rule of law will help. In that spirit, we are determined to continue building a stronger and deeper United Kingdom-China relationship to enable that partnership to flourish, for the benefit of the people of both our countries into the 21st century. Thank you.

Hugo Swire – 2016 Speech at Asia 2025 Event


Below is the text of the speech made by Hugo Swire, the Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, at Asia House in London on 8 March 2016.


Thank you Michael for that kind introduction. I am delighted to be here at the launch of Asia 2025. The list of contributors to this excellent book – and the distinguished guest list this evening – reads like a Who’s Who of all things Asia, and is a credit to the respect which Asia House commands, both in this country and in the region.

You’ll forgive me that I have not read the whole book, but I have seen some extracts of the expert opinions it contains. I know many of the authors are with us tonight so I won’t pick any out for fear of favouritism, but I will say that I am sure it makes for fascinating reading.

Many spoke of risks, challenges and uncertainties, yet all relished the possibilities, potential, and opportunities they presented. Whether we’re in politics, diplomacy or business, we all know that risk and opportunity are two sides of the same coin.

Some commentators are sounding the alarm about the Chinese economic slowdown, and the impact this might have on other economies in the region and further afield. This does not change the fundamental fact that Asia is now – and will remain – a major engine for global growth, and one with which we must continue to engage.

How Asia is changing

You only have to look at how Asia is changing, and the astonishing pace of that change. China’s Pearl River Delta now encompasses 42 million people – that’s more than the 20 biggest European cities put together. It’s the largest urban area on the planet. There are 160 cities of over 1 million people in China alone. And despite hundreds of millions of people moving into cities in the last decade, Asia’s urbanisation surge is only just beginning. This urbanisation is directly linked to income growth and consumer spending. The purchasing power of Asia’s growing middle classes is going up faster than the sky scrapers they are moving into.

This huge movement of people is not restricted to Asia. They are travelling overseas in ever greater numbers. India overtook China recently to become the fastest growing outbound travel market – predicted to more than triple to 50 million between now and 2020.

Two of the world’s top three economies are now Asian; a third of global trade and GDP is represented by Asia. Some predict that by 2025 as many as two thirds of the world’s population will be Asian. Both the G7 and G20 will be hosted in the region this year – clear testament to its growing significance.

Why this matters to the UK

There is no doubt that these seismic economic shifts are being felt right across the world, and the UK is feeling them too. Some contributors in the book you are launching today argued persuasively that the Asian economic centre of gravity was shifting westwards. Others argued just as forcefully that it was the centre of gravity of western economies that was heading east.

Of course both are right. People in Europe are looking east as never before, but Asians are also increasingly looking west – as students, investors and tourists. Some estimates suggest that Chinese tourists spend as much as £8,000 during a visit to the UK. (Informal sources suggest much of this is spent in Bicester village.) This increasing integration is having a huge impact on the UK. Cheaper Asian imports – from T-shirts to televisions – have given British people today a standard of living their grandparents could only dream of. But at the same time these products threaten the livelihoods of lower skilled British workers. So economics spills over into politics, with protests about globalisation – not least against free trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is already the subject of urban myths.


But we all have to accept that this increasing global inter-connectivity is here to stay and embrace it. Asia is embracing e-commerce. Ten years ago only 2% of Indonesia’s population used the internet. This year a third are expected to: that means 100 million Indonesians connected globally, with huge implications for economic growth and social change. Chinese consumers spent a record £10 billion online in just one day last year.

At an individual level, it means that a teenager on a laptop in Hanoi can do business with a company in Huddersfield. At a country level, it has meant a recognition of growing economic inter-dependence and the need to join forces with others.

Like our work with the Republic of Korea – building a new fleet of ships for the Royal Navy, which has led us to work together to promote the project to third countries. Or our plans to bring Typhoon fighter jets to Japan later this year, for the first non-US military exercise Japan has ever hosted.

Cooperation like this not only breaks down barriers between countries inside the grouping or partnership, it also magnifies their individual power and influence outside it.

In the trading context, you can see the proof of this in the EU – which I’ll come to in a moment. You can see it in the Commonwealth, where we are expecting to see the value of intra-Commonwealth trade reach $1 trillion by 2020. And you can see it in ASEAN’s economic success, and the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Almost two thirds of ASEAN’s growth in the last quarter century has come from productivity gains. Today ASEAN is the fourth largest exporting region in the world, accounting for 7% of global exports.

We support ASEAN’s Vision 2025, with its plan to tackle non-tariff barriers, harmonise the regulatory environment and liberalise services. These changes will be crucial for boosting growth in South East Asia and strengthening integration with the rest of the world economy. We also support the Free Trade Agreements that the EU is pursuing with countries in the region – we see these as laying the foundations for an EU-ASEAN FTA.

The UK, the EU and other like-minded economies are gradually building a global free trade network – through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and various EU Free Trade Agreements, with the Republic of Korea, Vietnam and Singapore. (Only yesterday I was able to reaffirm our commitment to the EU-Vietnam FTA during our third Annual UK-Vietnam Strategic Dialogue here in London.) An agreement with Japan is in the pipeline; I very much hope to see soon a resumption of negotiations on the EU-Thailand FTA; and the UK is advocating a feasibility study on an EU-China FTA.

Interconnectivity – security

The benefits of international cooperation are not just seen in trade. It is a simple truth that in an inter-connected world, problems and threats in the form of Daesh-inspired terrorism, instability in the South China Sea or the North Korean menace require a unified response. Large multilateral organisations like the EU or NATO, ASEAN or the UN are listened to in a way that no individual country is. That is plain fact.

I am pleased that United Nations Security Council Resolution 2270 passed unanimously this week, delivering a strong response from the international community to North Korea’s nuclear test and satellite launch using ballistic missile technology. We must stand united against acts that so flagrantly disregard international agreements and responsibilities.

And it makes sense that these groupings come together for discussions. ASEM is a good example – giving the UK and its European and Asian partners a forum to discuss issues of mutual interest and further consolidate their influence.

EU – good or bad?

Change, and increasing global connectivity, are as relevant to us here in Europe as they are for people in Asia.

Like Asia, the European Union has changed a great deal over the last half century. From its roots as a means to prevent further conflict between France and Germany the EU has grown into something different. Whilst with a whole range of new members this is inevitable, it does mean that reform is now clearly needed if the EU is to respond to the changed demands of the 21st Century.

But that aside, it is clear that the Union has brought peace and stability to its member states and to much of the European continent. It has introduced democracy, the rule of law and market economics to the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. And it acts as a champion for those values globally.

EU – good for Britain

A lot of this is down to the multiplying effect of EU cooperation. Its members have achieved more together than they could have achieved alone. The United Kingdom’s membership of the EU, like our membership of NATO, the Commonwealth and the UN, amplifies our power and influence on the world stage.

In Asia, it gives us greater leverage in the negotiations on free trade agreements and on the comprehensive investment agreement with China. These are tough negotiations, and our negotiating power to secure market opening in important sectors is much greater from within the EU than outside it.

At a time of increasing economic uncertainty and rising security threats, cooperation at an international level is more important than ever. The EU has powerful tools at its disposal, be they security, diplomatic, economic or humanitarian. They allow us to project our influence further than it would otherwise reach. Of course NATO remains the cornerstone of UK defence – we will never give control over such decisions to the EU. But the EU complements NATO’s military activities with its important longer-term stabilisation and development arms.

Of course the benefits also go the other way. The UK gives EU foreign policy greater credibility thanks to our global perspective. We are after all one of the EU’s two serious military powers. We are the only major nation to have kept our promise to spend 2% of our national output on defence and 0.7% of our national income on international development. We take the lead on cutting red tape, negotiating FTAs and extending the single market. So our membership of the EU benefits both the UK and the EU.

For all these reasons, I believe that the United Kingdom will be stronger, safer and better off in a reformed EU. Looking at the issue from an Asia perspective, it makes no sense at all for us to withdraw from the European Single Market just at the moment when Asia is creating one of its own.

EU Referendum

Some say the whole renegotiation and referendum exercise is an unnecessary gamble. If we were convinced of the case for staying in, why take the risk of Brexit by putting it to a referendum? I have two simple answers to these questions.

First, like many, I am aware that the EU has its shortcomings. But I believe that the deal which the Prime Minister successfully negotiated is a landmark agreement which delivers tangible benefits for the UK in the four key areas of concern: economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty and welfare/migration. The deal gives the UK special status within the EU that no arrangement outside the EU could match. It is a good deal for Britain – as the Prime Minister has said, it is a deal that gives us “the best of both worlds”.

The deal he secured on competitiveness is of particular relevance to you here this evening. It is a tacit recognition by the EU of the need to reform in order to respond to the economic challenge Asia represents. The rise of Asia underlines the case for the UK to stay in the EU and to influence reform from within.

Secondly, this referendum is about democracy. More than a generation of new voters have joined the British electorate since our accession in 1973. I am one of them. In last year’s election, this Government was given a clear mandate to renegotiate the terms of our EU membership and to let the electorate – not the politicians – decide whether to stay in or to leave. In setting a date for the referendum on 23 June we are honouring our electoral commitment.


So in conclusion, while challenges and uncertainties remain, the opportunities that Asia offers the UK and the West are undeniable, and now is the time to seize them. The best way to do that is in cooperation with others. So I for one intend to continue promoting international cooperation, working with my Ministerial colleagues to reform the EU from within, and keeping the EU firmly focused on the opportunities in the world beyond, above all in Asia. Thank you.

Hugo Swire – 2016 Speech in Wellington


Below is the text of the speech made by Hugo Swire, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand on 19 February 2016.

I am delighted to be here in New Zealand and I am particularly pleased to have this chance to talk to you today about the UK economy and the opportunities that exist for future collaboration between the UK and New Zealand.

Before doing so, I would like to pay tribute to the success of the New Zealand economy. At a time when the rest of the world was beset by the Global Financial Crisis, we watched as the New Zealand economy flourished. We were impressed and jealous in equal measure!

Five years ago, in 2011, the British economy was facing huge challenges.

We were struggling to recover from the financial crash that threatened our economy, and the recession that followed on its heels.

There was talk of a double dip recession.

Our unemployment rate hit a peak of 8.5%. Real wages were falling.

But under the leadership of David Cameron there was a clear long term economic plan for us to follow. We would tackle the crisis in our public finances.

We would cut business taxes and boost enterprise.

We would take the difficult long term steps to ensure a lasting private sector recovery rather than pump up the public sector balance sheet still further and risk catastrophe.

Our British people and British business understood that there was no easy shortcut to the work Britain had to do. Everyone kept their nerve.

And the results have been there for all to see.

Britain has been one of the fastest growing advanced economies in the world these past few years.

Unemployment has fallen to almost 5%.

And now we’ve got the highest employment rate in our history.

Real wages are growing.

The deficit as a share of GDP is down to nearly a third of what it was.

On the back of this, business investment is forecast to grow at 7.4% this year – the fastest growth since before the crisis.

That shows the high level of confidence that exists in the UK economy.

Now I know that that optimism is sometimes tempered, both here and in the UK, by concern about global economic trends – whether it be China’s slowdown, low dairy prices or falling oil prices.

But my message today is one of confidence: we can meet these challenges and overcome them.

There’s a lot of transition taking place – some that is difficult and turbulent, yes; but some that is fundamentally positive too.

We know that China’s economy is in transition, with growth driven increasingly by consumption, services and domestic demand.

We know that global oil markets are in transition, with new suppliers like Iran and new sources like shale.

We know that interest rates in the US are in transition.

And we know there are big forces at work as the demographics of many Western nations change, altering the balance between investment and savings.

In New Zealand – of all places – I hesitate to use the shifting tectonic plates metaphor. But there is no doubt that huge changes are taking place in the global economy.

And the question for all of us here is: do we just talk about this transition – or do we take the action, and show the political will, to adjust to it and make it as smooth as possible?

We need to see every shoulder at the wheel. Every country acting as one in search of growth.

We need China to keep reforming. To deliver on the ambition set out at the Fifth Plenum to allow markets to play a greater role.

We need countries like Russia and Brazil to make greater efforts to diversify, away from state owned companies and to increase investment, particularly in infrastructure.

We need a global commitment to tackle the corruption which stunts global growth. This is why the UK is hosting an Anti-Corruption Summit later this year. We aim to put fighting corruption at the heart of our international institutions. We want to make the rules and practices which govern global commerce even more resilient to threats from corruption.

And in Europe, we don’t want yet another action plan for completing the single market, or yet more calls for free trade deals. We want to see those plans put into effect, which is why the UK has been the strongest and loudest advocate for the proposed EU-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement.

As we face these challenges side by side, I am confident that New Zealand and the UK will remain close trading partners. The UK is New Zealand’s 6th largest trading partner. We are the 6th largest destination for New Zealand exports and the 7th largest source of imports for New Zealand in the year ending September 2015.

Now is a great time to join us and invest in Britain. This is not yet more empty rhetoric. As a government we are investing in hard infrastructure

In Victorian times we led the world in rail infrastructure.

The first inter-city railway in the world was British, the fastest steam locomotive in history was British.

But then we fell back. We are now addressing that, with innovative projects like Crossrail – a smart railway for 21st century London.

We’re also backing the largest road investment programme since the 1970s, building new nuclear power and investing in renewable energy.

We are committed to creating a competitive economy. We know that competition doesn’t always happen if you leave it to the market alone.

That’s why in November we published a new plan to break up monopolies and back new entrants into certain sectors.

We need action to let competition flourish, back the new company that doesn’t always have a seat at the top table and put the customers first.

We are the top destination in Europe for Foreign Direct Investment and the leading FinTech hub in Europe.

These are encouraging signs. Because a digital economy is a productive one

And we will continue to build stronger and deeper links with the rest of the world.

We don’t deliver sustained growth by becoming insular and isolated.

We’ll protect ourselves by reaching out to the world and broadening our links.

By looking to each and every trading opportunity. Particularly with close partners such as New Zealand.

And let me just say a few more words about a trading relationship close to the hearts of both our countries – China.

We want China to rebalance.

As recent events have shown, China is bound to experience bumps along the road to a reformed economy. But we’re in it for the long haul.

We are going to support China on its path to prosperity, along which it has already made such impressive strikes.

Some say that stock market volatility in China means we are wrong to strengthen our economic ties.

But those critics fail to look beyond that day’s headlines.

China is an economic colossus, it is the second biggest economy on the planet. It’s a huge part of our world’s future.

Any economy of that size you would want to trade with, whether it is growing at 7%, 6% or 5%.

At a 7% growth rate, China will add an economy equivalent to the size of Germany’s to world output by the end of this decade.

So we, the British government, are committed to strengthening our links across the world.

A country can only thrive as an outward looking nation that wants to trade with the world if it has a pro-business government.

Under David Cameron’s leadership, I am proud to be part of a government working to achieve that, and in doing so making Britain the best place for New Zealand companies to establish an international presence.

For five years we’ve unashamedly backed business, large and small.

We’ve reformed R&D tax relief – making it more generous.

We’ve dealt with the punitive 50% income tax rate because it was destroying enterprise.

But the biggest business tax reform introduced was made to corporation tax.

In 2010 it stood at 28%, and Britain suffered as a result. In Budget after Budget we have cut the rate, from 28% to 20%. The lowest in the G20. Today, the United Kingdom is recognised as a low tax destination for business.

Overall the business tax cuts we’ve announced since 2010 will be worth nearly £100 billion to business this decade.

That is £100 billion of support for business. In return we expect businesses to pay their fair share of taxes.

You won’t be surprised to discover that there aren’t many votes in cutting taxes for business.

But supporting business in the UK is the right thing to do. Support of this magnitude encourages business to invest, to expand and to compete.

It encourages businesses to build for the future.

To innovate to solve problems, and to respond positively to open and fair competition.

Never has Britain been more open for business, in every sense. The welcome mat is out for more New Zealand businesses, partners, investors and consumers to follow the lead of companies like Rex Bionics, Tri-Max and Orion Health. I look forward to welcoming you to the UK.

Hugo Swire – 2014 Speech in Kathmandu


Below is the text of the speech made by Huge Swire, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in Kathmandu on 3rd June 2014.

Sabailai namaste. Aunubhaekoma dhanyabad. Which I am told means “welcome and thank you for coming”. I would also like to welcome listeners to Capital FM 92.4 in Kathmandu and Radio Sarangi 101.3 in Biratnagar and Pokhara.


As British Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for South Asia, I am delighted to be here, on my first ever visit to Nepal.

It is a real honour to be asked to speak at the iconic Tri Chandra College. Countless important and influential figures from Nepalese culture, science and politics have preceded you through this hallowed institution.

Indeed, the college is renowned for being at the heart of Nepal’s vibrant student political scene, so it is no surprise that it counts a former Prime Minister and several serving Constituent Assembly members among its eminent alumni – some of whom are here today.

Each of them began as you are – students. And so I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you- the next generation of Nepal’s business and political leaders. Your futures, and the fate of your nation, are in your hands.

Everyone I have spoken to has told me that Nepal is a land of exceptional beauty – which I saw for myself earlier at Pokhara with its views of the Annapurna range. That it is a land rich in history and culture. But also one blessed with great potential.

I urge you to seize that potential – as well as fulfilling your own – and the unique opportunities open to you as Nepal moves out of the shadow of conflict towards a lasting constitutional settlement, and lays the foundations for peace, prosperity and political stability.

And, as you do so, you will continue to find in Britain the staunchest of allies.

Bicentenary of UK-Nepal relations: the history

It is no coincidence that my visit comes on the cusp of two very significant bicentennial anniversaries in UK-Nepalese relations. Both of these matter immensely to the UK and its people. Taken together, they form the heart of our bilateral ties.

The first anniversary will be next year’s bicentenary of recruitment to the Brigade of Gurkhas. There is no finer or more feared unit of soldiers anywhere in the world – or better ambassadors for the values held by the Nepalese people. And this year we commemorate the start of the First World War, a conflict during which two Gurkhas were awarded the Victoria Cross – Britain’s highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy.

Indeed, their service continues to be admired, valued and respected in equal measure, across the UK, to this day. Their sacrifices are remembered as one of our own – as befits one of the most heavily decorated regiments in the British army. I was therefore pleased to be able to see firsthand the outstanding work of the Gurkha Welfare Scheme – which ensures dignity in old age and a better quality of life for the Gurkhas’, their dependants and their communities.

I say this not just as a former soldier – but also the son-in-law of a Gurkha officer. That certainly gave me an early appreciation for the might of the Gurkhas. It is nerve-wracking enough meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time, without knowing that her father has 30 Gurkhas under his command!

March 2016 will mark the second important anniversary in our bilateral relations: the bicentenary of the Treaty of Sugauli which saw the first permanent diplomatic mission established in Kathmandu, by Britain of course. And right up to 1951, we were the only foreign country represented here. If that does not count as a special relationship, then I am not sure what does.

The world has changed beyond all recognition since these events 200 years ago. So why should you, the future of Nepal care? Why should they still matter today? And why do we still value them as highly as we do?

Because the difference between what we can do alone and what we are capable of when we work together is immense. Our solutions to the challenges we face, not the problems themselves, should shape our futures and make a difference to the world- whether in security, peace and prosperity, tackling climate change or ensuring that people everywhere have a voice and a vote.

Building a safer future

With peace at home, Nepal is working with the UK to build a safer future for the world. Nepal has the distinction of having moved from being an “importer” of security during the conflict to an “exporter” of security today.

Across Nepal young people know all too well the cost of war, and are working for peace and stability in some of the world’s toughest environments.

Nepal’s contributions to UN Peacekeeping Missions worldwide do your country enormous credit – and Britain knows from experience that Nepalese Army personnel currently wearing blue helmets are regarded as some of the most reliable and effective operators in the field.

Without you, the world – and by extension the British people – would be less safe, and less prosperous.

Building growth and prosperity

Once peace is assured, people’s thoughts naturally turn to the universal goal of securing a better life for themselves and their children.

The question on everybody’s mind becomes “how can we get our economy growing, create jobs and opportunity for all?”

It’s a question that has been central to meetings throughout my visit. Nepal has a proud recent record in reducing poverty- supported by the international community- led by the UK: Nepal’s largest bilateral aid donor.

But students, like you, the world over, ask the same questions: how will I get a job and make use of the qualifications for which I have worked so hard?

Ultimately no one else can make growth happen for you. The answer has to come from Nepal – and from each of you. Innovate, be creative, take risks, find the gap in the market and when you have a good idea, don’t stop until it becomes a reality.

And it is also your role to hold Government to account and ensure it delivers on its promises to create a thriving and open business environment.

And I am pleased to be here at the head of a delegation of British companies looking to do business with Nepal and deepen our bilateral trade and investment links.

Green economy and Climate Change opportunities

One area that is especially interesting for me – and the biggest potential I see personally for Nepal’s future prosperity – is the scope for Nepal to pioneer a truly green economy.

The UK has shown its commitment to greening its own economy, pushing for a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 and establishing an International Climate Fund of 3.9 billion pounds to help climate vulnerable developing countries like Nepal. We congratulate the Government of Nepal for the leadership it has shown on climate change – keeping climate change on the national agenda, and leading the LDC nations in climate talks.

Everyone I have spoken to talks of the energy crisis here and climate change is already having a real impact. Clearly this needs to be fixed, otherwise economic growth and investment will be held back, and health and livelihoods will be damaged.

But Nepal, a negligible carbon emitter, is in the enviable position of having the potential to supply all its energy needs in sustainable, low carbon ways. We are helping Nepal move in this direction, supporting work in climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction, forestry and hydropower.

By 2015, the UK will have spent 45 million pounds from the International Climate Fund on community forestry activities, and to support remote communities to adapt to climate change through micro-hydro schemes, solar home systems and biomass gas converters.

Hydropower is central to Nepal’s economic growth, and we are working to help Nepal deliver on this potential – tapping the energy of the fast flowing Himalayan rivers will be a major part of the solution, both here and in your wider region.

But I am also struck by the potential for other sources of renewable energy, from solar, water and forest resources. Taken together, Nepal really is a land of incredible potential, and I have met people in my last day here who are already making concrete progress towards turning that potential into reality.

Through innovation and hard work entrepreneurs are already building the future right here in Kathmandu – households and businesses are already installing low carbon and resource efficient technologies to cut their bills and improve their lives.

Imagine a future – a not too distant future – in which the flat roofs of the Kathmandu valley generate energy from solar panels, or are used to produce food. A future in which new jobs and opportunities are created in sectors that at the moment are either just emerging or simply do not exist – everything from the design and installation of smart energy grids, to measuring and managing water consumption; designing efficient public transport; to improving logistics that reduce waste and improve productivity.

These may seem distant dreams to someone in living in rural Nepal. But, as the science students here will know, Nepal is in a position to leapfrog old technologies and to build a low carbon and resource efficient economy that will deliver sustained and sustainable growth for both yourselves and future generations. All it needs is vision, energy and a willingness to work together, and in the UK you have a partner with world-class centres of excellence in science and engineering that can help Nepal make effective use of its resources whilst preserving its breathtaking environment.

So it is in these fields – the green economy and managing climate change – that I see scope for increased commercial, personal and academic links between the UK and Nepal.

It is at institutions like this one – with talented and enterprising students – where I see those new green energy jobs being created. This is the place where academic research will be translated into practical action and lay the foundations of both the UK and Nepal’s future prosperity.

Which is why I am pleased to announce today a tripling of Chevening Scholarships, to encourage more students from Nepal to study at the UK’s world-leading universities and join the long tradition of educational and academic exchange between our two countries.

The peace process and democracy underpin growth

There is a Nepalese proverb that I am sure you know well: “Opportunities come but do not linger.”

Today, in all these areas, there are opportunities for Nepal to seize. But to make the most of them, the time has come for its leaders to complete the peace process, agree a new Constitution and hold local elections. Only these can bring the political stability and greater democratic accountability needed to help Nepal unlock its economic potential.

From my discussions with them, the leaders of this incredible country understand that. I assured them, and I assure all of you here now, that the UK will remain committed to helping Nepal realise that vision, in any way we can.


Our countries have been united in a unique friendship for almost two hundred years.

And if cooperation between the UK and Nepal can conquer the world’s highest mountain, as happened 61 years ago, there is surely no limit to the heights we can reach. Those famous, oft-quoted words of Sir Ralph Turner from almost 90 years ago, remain as true today as the day they were written: “the bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you.”

By working together to solve the challenges of the present we will lay the foundations of a further 200 years of UK-Nepal friendship. We want to hear and see more of you –your diplomats, soldiers and students. Your voice is respected, and your views welcome.

The world faces many new challenges, but brings huge opportunities too. We must seize them together. Because they may not linger.

Hugo Swire – 2014 Speech in Central America


Below is the text of the speech made by Hugo Swire, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on 5th March 2014.

Supporting British business – large and small – and building prosperity for the United Kingdom is at the heart of what we do at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. And Central America is an important region for us in that effort.

So I am delighted to open this conference and to speak about the British Government’s work to deepen ties and to help British business explore the exciting opportunities in the SICA countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic.

I would like to thank Hugo Martinez, Secretary General of SICA, for honouring us with his presence today. I first met him in El Salvador, back when he was Foreign Minister and am delighted that he is here today in his new role. I also wish to thank Luis Ramon Rodriguez, the Dominican Republic Minister of Agriculture who is here representing the Dominican Republic’s Presidency of SICA

And Baroness Hooper, Chair of the Latin America All Party Parliamentary Group – a very helpful ally on Central American issues. And of course our sponsors who have contributed to making this Conference happen. A sign of the growing commercial interest in the region.

Canning Agenda

Many will be familiar with the Canning speech Foreign Secretary William Hague gave in 2010. Where we set out Britain’s most ambitious effort to reinvigorate relations with Latin America in decades.

I have often spoken about increased resources we have put into Latin America, trade envoys, new embassies opened – and the relationships developed through our increased ministerial visits to the region – over 25 last year alone. The message is: Britain is back in Latin America.

That is definitely true of Central America and SICA countries, a region which I had the pleasure of first visiting twice already and I look forward to returning later this year.

My first visit back in 2012, when I met with the Secretary General, Hugo Martinez, was in part to open our new Embassy in El Salvador. Our Embassy there has 6 staff. That is compared to the 600 staff at the American Embassy. So by my reckoning, one British diplomat is worth 100 American…

So, I am pleased that British interests in the region are strong and growing. We are fostering closer political relationships and people to people links: taking advantage of our thriving diaspora communities; through tourism; through educational exchanges, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s own Chevening Scholarship scheme; and, of course, through greater trade and investment – the focus of today’s conference.

Good conditions for trade in Central America

Our trade links are flourishing because the conditions in Central America are increasingly conducive to doing business.

Taken together, the SICA countries represent a combined market of some 52 million people and a combined GDP of £257 billion.

They form a region that has seen solid growth that Western economies would love to see themselves – approximately 4% GDP per annum over the past ten years.

A number of countries in the region have moved up the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking and are taking real steps to improve their regulatory and competitive environment.

Central America, of course, benefits from a natural geographic advantage – a bridge between the two subcontinents and a natural hub for trade, tourism and transport.

There are proposed new inter-oceanic infrastructure projects in both Guatemala and Nicaragua, which offer exciting opportunities, should they go ahead. El Salvador is planning major airport expansion. Belize and Honduras have spectacular coast lines and tourism opportunities. Costa Rica is an increasing exporter of high-value goods, such as medical devices.

Panama offers many opportunities. Growth is an astounding 9% – and it is developing as a regional finance and distribution hub. It is unsurprising therefore, that the UK is already the largest foreign investor there.

But it is not only thanks to these factors that our trade and investment links are improving so rapidly. It is also, as I mentioned earlier, the renewed effort the British Government is putting into strengthening ties with Central America and supporting business.

HMG action to support trade links

Trade Missions like those organised by the Central American Business Council, often with the close involvement of UK Trade and Investment and our embassies in the countries concerned, are an excellent way of making direct connections between British business and the untapped commercial potential of the region. The Council has already organised highly successful energy-focused missions and will be organising a retail trade mission to San Salvador and Panama City shortly.

Just last month, after a year and a half of intensive work at the highest Government levels, I am delighted that the British Embassy in Santo Domingo has been able to open the Dominican market to British meat exports. I would like to thank the Dominican Minister of Agriculture for his co-operation in achieving that success.

And the Government is working with SICA – having become an extra-regional observer last year – to identify a number of areas where British expertise could help make a difference throughout the region – particularly in the security and justice sectors.

So, these are just a few examples of the work we have been doing to develop trade links with Central America.

British business in Central America

But I am delighted that a number of British companies are already soundly established in Central American markets, enjoying solid commercial partnerships. Covering a wide range of sectors. For example, London and Regional are working on a major development of the ‘Panama Pacifico’ business and residential community in Panama; bridge construction specialists Mabey Bridge are exploring infrastructure opportunities; and a number of British energy companies are involved in a mix of energy projects, both on and off-shore.

Retail is another strong and growing sector and I am delighted to see the popularity of British brands across fashion, homewares and food and drink – Top Shop, Dyson and Waitrose to mention just a few examples – making the most of the growing opportunities for expansion in the region.

Central American business in UK

And Central American exports are gaining recognition here in the UK. British consumers are increasingly aware of the provenance of goods and the quality of the coffee, cocoa and rum produced in the region, to name but a few.

I consider coffee to be a fundamental part of my life-support system, and having sampled a wide range of the excellent coffee from the region I would be hard pressed to pick a favourite. But I will just point out that the rum supplied at this evening’s reception comes courtesy of our friends in the Dominican Republic. That is not to put off our whisky exporters in the UK of course, who I know have the region firmly in their sights. I am sure there must be a recipe for a good cocktail combining those two spirits….

I recognise – despite all the success I have mentioned – there are undoubtedly still some challenges for British companies wishing to do business in Central America: the same is true for any region. But I am confident that these issues will continue to be addressed, both at a national level and through SICA, under the able direction of Hugo Martinez.

Look ahead

And looking forward, I can already see we have another busy year ahead of us.

The ever popular Latin America Investment Forum will be back in London in May and I know the SICA Embassies will once again play a very active role.

I hope to return to Central America later this year and see more of the region.

We hope to continue working with the region on projects to promote harmonisation of rules and regulations and to increase transparency. All of which should help improve the general business environment and increase investor confidence.

And I am confident that the EU-Central America Association Agreement, that we hope to ratify in Parliament later this year, will also make a significant difference to prosperity in both regions.

The Agreement will strengthen political dialogue and cooperation and allow Central American countries to consolidate and improve their access to EU markets.

2014 is, of course, the centenary of the Panama Canal, and September will see a UK trade delegation visit to explore the opportunities for British expertise to contribute to the Canal expansion project.


So, there should be no doubt of the energy, commitment and activity being devoted to the region, by the British Government or by British business.

There is a huge amount for us to do in 2014 – but our hard work will pay dividends- both in the UK and in the SICA countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic.

Thank you.

Hugo Swire – 2014 Speech at World Wildlife Day


Below is the text of the speech made by Hugo Swire at the UK Mission to the UN at Geneva on 3rd March 2014.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour to be here, and I am grateful to the Good Planet Foundation for the wonderful prints they have provided today.

I want to say a few words about the importance the United Kingdom attaches to ending the illegal wildlife trade.

It is not just an environmental crisis. It is a global criminal industry that drives corruption, insecurity and undermines efforts to cut poverty and promote sustainable development. There is even anecdotal evidence that terrorism could benefit from it. Tackling it would build growth, rule of law, stability and good governance.

That is why the UK supports the vital work of CITES under the admirable leadership of John Scanlon

That is why we applaud Thailand and CITES’ initiative to establish World Wildlife Day,

And that is why the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, hosted the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade two weeks ago, in the presence of their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

I am delighted the conference was such a success. It agreed ambitious measures, showed new political commitment and marked a turning point in the effort to halt, and reverse, the current poaching crisis.

For the first time, governments committed to renouncing the use of products from animals threatened with extinction.

They agreed to support the current CITES commercial prohibition on the international ivory trade until the survival of elephants in the wild is no longer threatened

And they agreed to treat poaching and wildlife trafficking as serious organised crime – like trafficking in drugs, arms and people.

After the conference, the work continues. Chad burned its 1.1 ton ivory stockpile. Vietnam strengthened its protection of endangered species. The UK added Anguilla to the list of UK Overseas Territories covered by CITES. And we welcome Botswana’s offer to host a follow conference next year.

But there is much more to do. And we strongly encourage countries that were not present at the Conference to associate themselves with the London Declaration.

So my message is simple: the illegal wildlife trade must stop now.

Together, the international community can stop it. And if we act on the London Conference commitment, I believe we will.