From Austria to New Zealand, via Birmingham – meet the Department for International Trade’s civil servants

Written by Civil Service World on 4 October 2019 in Feature
Feature

With the UK set to leave the European Union this month, the role of the Department for International Trade will become increasingly important. CSW meets some of the civil servants shaping Britain’s global future

Photo montage: Vienna (PA), Birmingham (Adobe Stock) and Auckland (Adobe Stock)

If the government succeeds in taking the UK out of the European Union in a way that allows new trade deals to be struck with other nations, the Department for International Trade might just turn out to be Theresa May’s lasting legacy as prime minister.

Established in July 2016 alongside the Department for Exiting the European Union, DIT’s mission is to take on the government’s existing work to encourage exports and inward investment, as well as negotiating post-Brexit trade deals with the rest of the world. While DExEU is explicitly time-limited – civil service chief executive John Manzoni has said there is “no discussion that DExEU is going to be permanent” – DIT could be shaping Britain’s global relationships for years.

As the meat of trade negotiations can’t be started until after EU exit, DIT has so far focused on building up its own capacity. Speaking to CSW earlier this year, permanent secretary Antonia Romeo said her department now had “a better grip on the system” of trade and investment.


RELATED CONTENT


The department has brought together the UK Trade and Investment and UK Export Finance teams with a new international trade profession in the civil service. Senior appointments include HM trade commissioners responsible for trade and investment policy in nine global regions, as well as director general for investment Mark Slaughter and his exports counterpart John Mahon.

Romeo said her department reached its third birthday hitting the milestone of being able to unite its regional trade plans with export drives based on specific sectors of the economy for the first time.

“Getting the system to work is one of the most important things,” she said. “Everybody has somebody who is focusing on connecting the overseas network to the department.”

Jill Rutter, senior fellow at the Institute for Government, says some business organisations think DIT has joined up trade promotion effectively.

“There is a view that DIT is doing much better than its predecessors,” she tells CSW.

However, these is a difference between this and the “buccaneering, free-trading department they’d like to be,” she adds.

DIT is not in charge of shaping the UK’s future relationship with the EU, which is DExEU’s responsibility. Given that the details of the EU trade deal – the extent to which the UK will follow single market rules, or whether it will be part of a customs agreement – will shape all other deals, this has always been a questionable split, Rutter says.

“Having a Department for International Trade that does everything except the big negotiation with our major trading partner has been a very odd set up from the start,” she adds. “That has led to quite a lot of tensions.”

A more distant relationship with the EU, such as leaving the customs union, would give DIT “a bigger sandpit to play in”, Rutter says – adding that the current government’s inclinations have “probably” lessened those tensions compared to the May regime.

For Rutter, there had been a feeling in other departments that DIT “drank the free trade agreement Kool-Aid” and was overhyping the scope for future trade deals. 

However, speaking to CSW this month, Romeo is keen to highlight the successes of civil servants in the government’s youngest department, 12 of whom we profile below.

“We created and safeguarded over 230,000 jobs as a result of foreign direct investment projects directly supported by DIT, opened up new markets across the world, and built the capability to deliver new trade deals as we leave the EU,” she says.

“None of this would be possible without our brilliant people across DIT’s global network.”

Christina Schiøtt Liaos, Regional director Europe North, Copenhagen

How did you join DIT?

I first came across UKTI when the British Embassy in Copenhagen was looking for someone to increase life sciences cooperation between Denmark, Sweden and the UK. One project led to the next and soon I was fortunate enough to be asked to lead the UKTI team in Denmark. 

DIT is a unique place to work because of its international DNA, the diversity in the organisation, the broad variety of specialisms internally and the fascinating insights from working for a British government organisation.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I have met so many inspiring colleagues and learned so much from business contacts: both from DIT and also from other government departments and external stakeholders. 

The variety of the job is what keeps it eternally interesting and challenging. No day is like the next, the business environment is changing, and we need to align ourselves and stay on the beat. 

Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

Establishing and running the first regional campaign in the Nordic Life Sciences sector, forging valuable business connections between UK and Nordic companies, organisations and researchers and advancing UK interests in the region.

Sam Thompson, Northern Powerhouse programme executive officer, Daresbury

How did you join DIT? 

I started at DIT in February 2017, as the only apprentice outside of London. 

What is your favourite part of the job?

I really enjoy how we work across such a range of different projects and workstreams.

One week we could be planning a visit for ministers and the next taking off to an international trade fair supporting our northern businesses.

Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

Working on the two recent Board of Trades in the Northern Powerhouse was a real highlight for me.

Helping to deliver such a prestigious event, attended by ministers and senior officials from both government and private sector, gave me a real sense of how our work has an impact on others.

Faisal Moosa, deputy head, Investment Promotion Programme, Portfolio & Development Directorate, London

How did you join DIT? 

My first taste of DIT was working in the joint DfID/DIT Trade for Development team, before moving to Strategic Projects in the ministerial strategy directorate – where the ministerial ambition and concept for DIT’s first Official Development Assistance programme was born. 

What is your favourite part of the job?

Every day is completely different. My workstream gives me the opportunity to pioneer new ideas, provide exposure and share the expertise of ODA. I also get to work with a huge variety of stakeholders.

 Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

Working on the Prosperity Fund, allowing us to become an ODA spending department. This programme will support developing countries to harness trade and investment and help build productive, open and dynamic economies to create the millions of jobs needed to defeat poverty.

Rosie Mooney Northern Powerhouse programme manager, Manchester

How did you join DIT? 

After a few years at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, I moved to DIT’s brand new Northern Powerhouse team, working on attracting foreign direct investment into the region.

Beginning my career in trade and investment in the UK in June 2016 turned out to be an even more interesting decision than I thought it would be.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I love working at the heart of government and especially in the Northern Powerhouse, playing a key role in the challenges and opportunities we’re presented with every day. My job has allowed me to travel all over the country and the world and meet companies who have built their businesses, jobs and lives, with our help. I love seeing what a difference we’re making every day. 

Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

I have just been promoted to a new senior executive officer role in the Northern Powerhouse team. I’m very proud that the apprenticeship I took up when I left school has given me this career path.

Nadia Sharif, head of international trade profession, London

How did you join DIT? 

I moved from Civil Service Learning to DIT to develop trade policy capability and set up the new international trade profession from scratch. This was about preparing the UK to take forward an independent trade policy post-exit from the EU.

What is your favourite part of the job?

The people: I work with an incredibly talented team. I also enjoy the collaborative work we do within the UK and overseas to develop and embed the profession – we work together to create pride and passion in what we do.

The wealth of opportunities available make DIT a unique place to work and you are supported to build your capability and test new and innovative ideas.

 Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

Designing, developing and launching the profession in just eight months  –  it now has nearly 3,000 members over a 14-month period. Winning the Civil Service Skills Award this year was another highlight – a welcome recognition for everyone who had worked so hard to make the vision a reality.

Annette Taylor, trade and investment manager, Auckland, New Zealand

How did you join DIT?

I studied international relations and I always knew I wanted to work for a trade-promotion agency. When I moved to London and an opportunity came up at UKTI, I grabbed it. After five years in London I returned to New Zealand and stayed within what is now the DIT family. 

What is your favourite part of the job?

Having the opportunity to work with such talented and passionate people from all over the world. I also enjoy working for a customer-facing organisation – it makes the work we do interesting and challenging.

The remit of DIT is topical and ranked highly on the UK political agenda, which gives us access to high-level contacts and opens doors. I even got to meet the prime minister of New Zealand.

Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

I am lucky enough to work with many interesting and innovative companies and support their UK expansion. My role now is to support New Zealand technology companies to locate and thrive in the UK, which is very rewarding. Seeing a business succeed because of the assistance you have provided is definitely a highlight.

Helena Hadden, UK Regions Midlands Engine investment lead, Birmingham

How did you join DIT?

I came to work in DIT after joining UKTI four years earlier to work on the High Value Opportunities Programme. I was then poached by the then-Department for Culture Media and Sport and despite the offer of a further two years with DCMS, I decided to return and – what a surprise! – I was returning to a new department… DIT.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I love working here because of the opportunities and challenges it offers. Having a variety of interesting work that keeps me busy; meeting people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds; and aspiring to deliver high quality solutions that are a win-win for all parties.

 Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

I feel quite proud to support and promote the region where I was born. In doing so, I get to work with some brilliant colleagues. When you achieve the outcome you aimed for and also get some praise, you know you have done a good job.

Bronwen Moore, country director for Austria, Vienna

How did you join DIT?

I was recruited from the private sector to join DIT’s predecessor organisation as country director in November 2009. 

What is your favourite part of the job?

The interaction with business leaders across different industry sectors is particularly enriching. The variety and scope of our work is stimulating, and being given the opportunity to drive innovative projects forward is rewarding. I really enjoy our cross-regional work in support of business success and, of course, day-to-day working with my team! 

Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

Building a basis for a regional campaign across five Western European countries to promote the UK’s expertise and capabilities in the financial and professional services industry. 

Liz McCrory, export finance manager, UK Export Finance, Northern Ireland

How did you join DIT?

I worked in the international trade finance and treasury departments in two of Northern Ireland’s leading business banks for more that 25 years then joined UK Export Finance as regional export finance manager – I applied for the job and got it. 

UKEF is a small and dynamic government department with operations spanning the globe.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I really feel that I am an integral part of an innovative department and that I’m making a positive, tangible difference to the economy in Northern Ireland.

I particularly like visiting businesses at their premises to form new exporter relationships or deepen existing ones. These relationships have resulted in increased business and economic growth for Northern Ireland.

Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

It is a personal highlight that UKEF provided a substantial amount of support to Northern Ireland exporters last year, which has already resulted in a considerable amount of overseas sales – underpinning jobs and growth.

Bart Williams, defence & Security organisation desk lead for Kuwait & UAE, London

How did you join DIT?

After two years in the secretary of state for Scotland’s private office, I wanted a new challenge that would allow me to work with a wide range of stakeholders, both in the UK and internationally. 

What is your favourite part of the job?

Engaging with foreign governments, opening doors to UK companies and being able to add value as government to their campaigns in the Middle East. Not many other jobs in the civil service give you such a level of engagement with the private sector as well as access to deep within government. Being that interlocutor is hugely rewarding.

Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

Organising the itinerary for the DSO director to visit Abu Dhabi and Kuwait to meet with very senior international stakeholders, raising DIT’s profile and establishing vital relationships. Spending a few hours aboard HMS Blyth in the Gulf comes a close second!

Bettina Molnárová, senior trade adviser, Prague

How did you join DIT?

I have a background in corporate banking and SME support and joined DIT in Prague in February 2018 as a senior trade adviser covering the financial and professional services.

What is your favourite part of the job?

Meeting with interesting people from all areas of life, both Czech and British, and promoting cutting-edge technologies from the UK that might not otherwise be known and implemented locally. I particularly enjoy the regional cooperation within different high-value campaigns and working towards One DIT.

Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

Organising the Regulatory Sandbox Workshop in Prague, where we attracted the UK Financial Conduct Authority as the main speaker along with a number of fintech and bank case studies. The event was a promotion of Global Britain and best-practice sharing to improve the regulatory landscape in the Czech Republic. It was a first of its kind in Prague.

Hitomi Nakai, inward investment officer, Osaka

How did you join DIT?

I joined the British Consulate-General as PA to the consul-general in the 1990s. It was an interesting job, but I found trade promotion work even more interesting and applied for a trade office job and moved to DIT.

There are many commercial organisations providing similar services to DIT, but being a government organisation definitely makes a big difference when we speak to industry. I also think DIT provides us with a huge amount of learning and development and flexible working opportunities compared with many other Japanese organisations.

What is your favourite part of the job?

Meeting with people, building up my knowledge and network, and being of help to Japanese companies interested in expanding their businesses to overseas markets, in cooperation with my colleagues based in the UK.

Tell us a personal highlight of your time in the role

It was really fascinating and rewarding when my client, a global top 10 diagnostics company, chose the UK as their FDI destination, and decided to set up a new research and development facility in the UK. I think my effective sales pitches and strategic account management – including the involvement of senior management at the right time – worked extremely well.

Author Display Name
Civil Service World
Image description
PA
Share this page
Editor's Pick
Promote as primary content
Not Promoted

Share this page

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS

Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Contact the author

The contact details for the Civil Service World editorial team are available on our About Us page.