Speech by the Secretary for International Trade at the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce

Hello everyone.

What a pleasure to see you all. I hope the Chancellor has answered all the tough questions and I can tell you all the great things we are doing.

I really want to talk today about what the Department for International Trade, my fantastic department, is doing together with UK businesses – all of you – to boost growth across the country.

Quite simply, I see us as part of the same chain reaction: trade drives business, business creates jobs, jobs spread prosperity that improves people’s lives.

Because right now, when our country, like others, is facing some really tough economic challenges, it can be tempting to use trade policy as a sort of band-aid solution: maybe thinking that by reducing the tariffs, we will instantly solve our problems, for example.

And of course, tariff reductions are a valuable tool. That’s why when we left the EU we introduced our own custom-tailored import regime, waiving tariffs on some £30 billion worth of goods. And in fact, we now have 0% customs duties on about twice as many items as the EU Customs Union.

And it’s also worth remembering that reducing tariffs is central to our free trade agreements – where they act as an important mechanism, allowing both parties to realize the benefits of a deal.

However, tariffs are not the be-all and end-all of trade policy, and haphazard cuts are not a lasting solution to economic problems.

Instead, the trade should be about embedding those long-term successes, rather than just applying quick fixes.

That’s why I see the Department of International Trade as a ministry of economic growth – the Department of Good News, as some of my colleagues refer to it – we are charged with using trade to create prosperity and make a real difference in people’s lives.

So this morning I want to tell the story of how we achieve this.

In the two and a half years since the UK left the EU, we have championed the benefits of free, fair and open trade and used our newfound independence to strike deals around the world .

Europe will also always remain a key partner, but we are also forging links with places full of opportunities, such as the Indo-Pacific region.

And our deal with Australia, our first deal from scratch since leaving the EU, is set to unlock billions more pounds of two-way trade.

And our deal with New Zealand will remove trade barriers on a wide range of British goods – from biscuits to buses and just about everything in between.

And our agreement with Japan guarantees benefits beyond our existing agreement with the EU. Our digital economy agreement with Singapore, which has just entered into force, is therefore the most innovative trade agreement on the planet.

But of course we’ve also launched a lot of negotiations that you know about: the flags outside my office are sort of in permanent rotation at the moment, as we welcome delegations to the Department and move forward in negotiations on a number of things.

We’re focused on finalizing our membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership – that’s the CPTPP, you’ll all have to practice that because once we get there, because we’ll say it all the time – and that’s potentially opening up new markets worth £9 trillion.

We are also continuing our talks with India, we have launched negotiations with Canada and with Mexico, and I launched our negotiations with the Gulf last week, and of course we are strengthening our relationship with the United States through our Dialogue on the Future of Atlantic Trade.

But of course, these talks and agreements are only part of our work at DIT: we know that companies that export pay higher wages and are more productive. We therefore want to make it easier for companies to sell their goods and services abroad.

Too often, however, complex business rules and practical hurdles prevent companies from doing so. Seemingly minor details in the fine print of countries’ rulebooks can lead to major problems for UK businesses.

And that’s what I know a lot of you think about one or two people who drove you crazy trying to export.

And I’m determined that we really should change that. So, at DIT, we have an incredible set of dedicated teams focused on making these changes happen.

In just two years so far, they’ve solved around 400 of those hurdles – transforming the fortunes of businesses and enabling them to drive growth and level the country.

For example, we recently released half a billion pounds for UK manufacturers and retailers to sell lipsticks and moisturizers in China.

We did this by encouraging the Chinese authorities to remove a rule that meant certain cosmetics had to be tested on animals before being sold there. Of course, this caused our companies to miss out on the huge Chinese markets.

Now, with this change, companies can compete on a level playing field, Chinese consumers can buy our cruelty-free cosmetics, while Body Shop plans to enter Chinese markets.

And just last week, my officials unblocked fish and poultry exports to Mongolia, putting £10m into the pockets of UK businesses.

Iceland Foods says the change will allow it to expand its international business, while the opening of poultry markets will allow Moy Park, a food producer in Northern Ireland, to supply chicken to KFC Mongolia.

And of course, it is often the companies themselves who tell us what these obstacles they face are.

VetPlus, a company based in Lytham, Lancashire, said it could not export its animal supplements to India due to an administrative complication. So we’ve solved the problem, a change that will be worth £1.4m to the company over the next five years.

A diamond jewelry seller, Chelsea Rocks, also contacted my team saying they were having trouble exporting their products to Austria.

Again, my team solved the problem and helped the company’s sales jump by a fifth.

These examples are not isolated victories. Barely a week goes by without adding another victory to a list spanning every continent and every region of the country.

And obviously, quite frankly, I don’t shout about it enough. So I want us to go further: it is my ambition to light a bonfire of barriers, which could result in over £20 billion in export opportunities for our economy.

To put that figure into perspective, that’s more than the individual GDPs of Iceland and Senegal combined.

So I’ve put together a list of about 100 “most wanted” obstacles in the way of our businesses in all parts of the world.

Take the rules that prevent UK meat exporters from selling their beef to South Korea and their lamb to China. Take them out and we could open up import markets worth a combined £4 billion a year.

Our largest beef producer, Foyle Food, which employs 1,400 people, says it would be hugely beneficial if we could lift the South Korean ban.

Pilgrim’s Lamb, a company based in Hampshire and Powys in Wales, believes that overcoming the barrier with China would boost its business considerably, while the Scotch Whiskey Association tells us that removing a 100% tax levied on spirits over 30% alcohol by volume in Hong Kong could unlock market potential for UK producers.

Beyond all of this, we’re helping businesses take advantage of our new independent trade policy to drive those jobs and growth for the whole of the UK.

Last year we set ourselves the target of increasing our exports to £1 trillion before the end of the decade. Our Made in the UK, Sold to the World export strategy is our model for achieving this. Of course, it is all of you who are going to make this possible.

But the tools we bring together to support you include the UK Export Academy, which gives businesses the know-how and, above all, the confidence, to sell overseas.

We are also about to launch a major programme, providing businesses with practical support so they can take full advantage of our new trade agreements and work to remove these barriers.

UK Export Finance also helps our businesses sell globally. In fact, last year it provided businesses with £7.4billion, supporting 72,000 jobs. It also helps our companies deploy sustainable projects around the world, including electric railways and offshore wind farms.

So that brings me to another personal passion of mine: seizing green business opportunities.

I am convinced that it is the ideas, innovations and expertise of British businesses that are essential to achieving a net zero future for the world.

So we want to help businesses reap those huge economic benefits here too: the global low-carbon export market is expected to be worth £2 trillion by 2030.

So, as a green trade pioneer, the UK already has an advantage.

Today, we’re boosting our green export sector, encouraging the world’s most exciting businesses to support Britain and drive sustainable growth.

At the October Global Investment Summit we hosted here in London, we secured almost £10 billion in pledges from international lenders for environmentally friendly projects – some of which are already translating into green jobs across the UK.

And we’re going to build on that at our Green Trade and Investment Expo, to be held in the Northeast this fall.

And of course, all of this will benefit many small businesses in the supply chain that are the backbone of chambers of commerce. Companies like yours who are there day in and day out, providing these amazing jobs, using innovation to really drive UK success.

So let me find myself here. It has been a real pleasure to have the chance to share with you some of the tools we use, and I hope it will help to be an integral part of our national success and your successes.

My Department wants to help you do even more. That’s why we’re opening up those markets, breaking down those barriers, driving investment and green growth, and showing the world all that our brilliant British businesses have to offer.

So let’s come together, keep working to make a difference for people in all our communities and to make sure the rest of the world knows we want the best from Britons. Thanks.