Why the UK stands on 'cusp of new era' for trade - Alister Jack

Trade – the life-blood of international commerce – matters as much today as when it was the very foundation upon which the United Kingdom was built.

Scottish secretary Alister Jack alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA Wire

We stand on the cusp of a new era, one in which Britain charts its own destiny as – for the first time since 1972 – we are able to strike our own worldwide deals on our own terms.

Britain stands ready to be a global player and the report out today from the Board of Trade makes it clear how important it is that we seize this moment.

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Yes, international trade matters in terms of prestige, but it matters far more for jobs.

Research for the Department for International Trade from the Fraser of Allander Institute tells us that UK exports support 6.5 million UK jobs – 74 per cent of those are outwith London and approximately 468,000 here in Scotland

The figures emerge in the first report from the transformed Board of Trade. Its title, ‘Global Britain, Local Jobs’, sums up the reality. By taking a leading role in modernising international trade, the UK can reap a rich harvest of prosperity.

Today’s Board of Trade is an advisory body with a remit to raise awareness of the benefits of international trade; to campaign for free and fair trade; to build a consensus for open markets; and to counter protectionism.

Its president Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade, has brought forward a blueprint for capitalising on exports.

In an age of protectionism, UK enterprise can become a front-runner in the liberalisation of trade with our far-reaching free trade agreements. They have already paid dividends and now roll on to emerging opportunities involving the likes of the pivotal Indo-Pacific region and the South American Mercosur bloc.

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, some seek solace behind tariffs in a doomed bid for protection.

This is to fall for the over-simplistic argument for isolationism.

Adam Smith, the Fife economic seer, used wine to debunk the myth. Yes, it is possible to hot-house grapes in Scotland and to press from them a decent vintage. Trouble is, your Chateau D’Ecosse might cost 30 times that of an equivalent from elsewhere.

So specialise in what you are good at and trade for what you are not – which is why today an average of 36 bottles of Scotch whisky leave our shores every second.

Britain is already a leader in service exports and rising demand for digital technologies offers a wave of prosperity.

The UK Government is aware of the importance this has for Scotland with services, accounting for 36 per cent of all of Scotland's exports.

We may need to pivot parts of our workforce towards new skills and the Board of Trade is pressing for retraining schemes and regional development plans so no one is disadvantaged.

Climate change is a crisis an outward-looking Britain can help tackle.

The clean energy, low-carbon, innovations we develop today could be helping the world breathe easier tomorrow.

For generations, Britain has been in the vanguard of free trade, demonstrating time and again that the untrammelled flow of goods and services offers a win-win for us and our partners. Let us pick up that torch now to deliver lower prices, increased consumer choice and – crucially – jobs.


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