By Suzannah Brecknell

18 Apr 2023

In this new series, CSW provides a guide to professions and functions across the civil service. Each briefing looks at a different group, offering a glimpse at what they do and how they work with other parts of government

Who are they? The international trade profession is made up of civil servants whose job is to support trade in and with the UK and is headed up by Crawford Falconer, second permanent secretary at the Department for Business and Trade and government’s chief trade negotiation adviser.

“Unlike other professions, the trade profession is not so much determined by what type of work people are doing, as what the content of the work is,” explains Institute for Government associate James Kane.

What do they do? Kane describes the work of trade professionals as “bolstering international trade”, while Jo Crellin, director general for trade systems at the Department for Business and Trade, describes a continuum of work from the policy-heavy “meta” work of “people who are designing the rules of the WTO” to the more operational end of “people who are supporting UK companies to export and overseas companies to come and invest in the United Kingdom”.

How many are there across government? Just over 3,700, according to the Department for Business and Trade, which is home to the vast majority of trade professionals. It is not, however, the only place they can be found: trade professionals are based right across government in 25 departments and arms-length bodies.

Other departments which have a sufficiently large or significant trade profession to require a ‘head of profession’ include the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, HM Revenue and Customs, HM Treasury and the Department for Transport. The devolved administrations also have their own trade profession heads.

What is a typical career path like? As the trade profession was only founded in 2018, many of the roles across it are new. “Trade roles are really interesting because many of them didn’t exist a few years ago,” says Crellin. “So as we’ve been building up the strength of the profession, we’ve drawn talent from lots of different places.”

Many trade professionals started their career elsewhere in government or industry and, given this, the ITP has put a lot of work into creating a comprehensive learning and development offer – winning a civil service award in 2022 for its efforts. “It’s a really marvellous offer,” says Crellin, who took advantage of it herself when she took up her current role (see box). “And it’s open to anyone who’s interested in trade, not just people who are working on trade, so that is a good way into [the profession].”

She adds that the ITP is more flexible, in terms of location, than you might imagine. Of course there are opportunities for overseas work, but there are also roles across the UK – Crellin and many of her team are based in the Darlington Economic Campus, for example.

Which professions do they work most closely with? The policy profession and negotiation experts from the FCDO. They also work with analysts and economists as well as operational delivery professionals, and within the ITP there are a number of specialisms which use skills that dovetail with other professions, such as analysts and project managers. Many members of the ITP are also members of other professions, Kane notes, explaining that most are members of the policy profession.

Most likely to say? Crellin says two phrases she’s likely to say – reflecting the profession’s innovative and practical focus – are “now, let’s crack on” and “we’re doing lots of these things for the first time”. She describes working in trade as “a wonderful mix of the strategic and technical” so there is a fair bit of technical language to get to grips with. This includes phrases you may be familiar with such as ‘rules-based system’, and bilateral and multilateral agreements. Others you may not be familiar with include ‘plurilateral’ (an agreement which includes more than two partners but, unlike multilaterals, is not designed for everyone to join) and ‘demandeur’ – meaning the party requesting a negotiation.

The trade world is also acronym heavy – even by government standards – so expect a smattering of things like MRL, FTA and TRQ or even the cumbersome but important CPTPP (see box).

What are their priorities at the moment? As a profession, ITP continues to focus on building capability and a strong network across government, as well as building embedding and prioritising diversity and inclusion across all of its work.

In January it launched a job shadowing scheme which it hopes will allow members to experience a variety of trade roles and careers. The scheme is being piloted across executive officer and higher executive officer members to begin with.

In terms of important work this year, the UK is in the advanced stage of negotiations to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – or CPTPP. This is the first plurilateral the UK has sought to join since leaving the EU, and Crellin describes it as a “really important agreement, which will set the tone for our economic way of cooperating, and that group’s way of co-operating for years to come”.

Kane, who points out that the ITP – like the policy profession – is very sensitive to changes in government’s own priorities, suggests that alongside the CPTPP we could see a renewed focus on a trade deal with the US.

Alongside these agreements, he says, and particularly since the merger of business and trade into a new department, there will also be a renewed focus on trade and growth. “If you look at some things that [business and trade secretary] Kemi Badenoch has been saying since the merger, they’re much more focused on the contribution trade can make, practically, to UK growth so I suspect that will become more and more the focus of the profession as it goes forwards.”

Kane also points to an interesting crossroads in the ITP’s future as head of profession Crawford Falconer may soon step down, having already had his tenure at the trade department extended. “I gather he is planning to leave as soon as CPTPP is finished,” says Kane. Falconer’s vision for the profession has been “very much around negotiations,” Kane continues, in line with Falconer’s own experience. A new head of profession may change the focus slightly, Kane suggests, and there is “at least a possibility” that the ITP may merge with other professions.

Where can you find out more? Find out more here, or head to CS Live 2023. The profession will have a stand at all five locations to promote and explain its work.

View from the top: Jo Crellin, director general for trading systems, Department for Business and Trade

Jo Crellin was appointed director general for trading systems, in what was then the Department for International Trade, in 2020. She describes her directorate as “the bit of government that thinks about the rules [of trade] both internationally and domestically”.

“We do a variety of things,” she explains. “We promote economic growth through opening markets overseas and removing barriers to trade; we protect and defend the United Kingdom [both] in terms of international rules and making sure that our companies are being supported and defended against any potentially unfair practices. We think quite a lot about economic security and the interface between prosperity, growth and our national security.”

Within this work, Crellin oversees the Bilateral Trade Relations team, who lead on regional and country specific trade policy outside formal trade negotiations, as well as helping to tackle market access barriers; the Trade Sanctions team who design and deliver targeted trade sanctions in response to existing and emerging threats; and the Global Supply Chains team who work with colleagues across government and overseas to strengthen critical supply chains.

“What I like about what we do is that it sits in the intersection of domestic and international government, business, prosperity, security – it’s a fulcrum that’s right in the middle of lots of things that [civil servants] do.”

She gives an example of some recent work on standards for cosmetics – an area where there are currently relatively few international rules. The Chinese government requires all cosmetics to be tested on animals. “We obviously don’t test on animals in the United Kingdom, so we worked with the Chinese government to persuade them to recognise that the standards we held were adequate and we didn’t have to test on animals to be able to enter their market. As a result, we’ve removed that barrier for UK businesses,” Crellin says.

Before taking up her current post, Crellin was trade commissioner for Latin America, based in São Paulo, Brazil, where she was also the British consulgeneral. She has been a civil servant since 2001, working in HM Treasury and the business department on issues such as nuclear decommissioning, social enterprise and corporate finance.



Frontline view: Marry Morlety, trade policy, negotiations, engagement and coordination adviser

Matty Morley first considered joining the civil service as he left university, but the chance to work in Spain as a sports journalist tempted him away. A few years later, having moved from journalism to business and back to the UK, Morley was working for a large chemical transport firm. His role involved “a bit of everything”, including time spent in the US working on deep sea imports.

As his understanding of trade and logistics grew, he noticed frustrations and inefficiencies across the system. “My personality is to ask – and try and get to the bottom of – why things are done a certain way,” he tells CSW, so he was attracted to the idea of joining the civil service and “being involved in the decision making process”.

When an opportunity arose to join the trade department in the new Darlington Economic Campus, Morley jumped at it. “I was already based in the Northeast, and it just felt right, timing-wise,” he recalls.

Morley became a civil servant just six months ago, and, despite his grounding in the world of trade, he describes a steep learning curve around the structures and systems of government.

He’s been helped on that curve by two things – first that his job is a broad, cross cutting role which gives him insight into different parts of the department and wider government. As trade policy, negotiations, engagement and coordination adviser, Morley’s role involves providing support to trade systems and trade negotiations teams in the Department for Business and Trade. This can range from reporting to the Cabinet Office on progress towards outcome delivery plans, or facilitating engagement either across the DBT directorates or externally with other government departments. Morley also credits not just an extensive training offer but the culture of DBT for helping him to learn the ropes. “There’s a really big culture of sort of informal learning, particularly within our directorate, of people sharing experience and knowledge, saying: “We’ve just done this big project and this is what we learned; here’s a mistake you can avoid making in the future.”

His experience outside government has helped him bring a new perspective to meetings and projects, he says. “It’s especially helpful when we do things like translating trade agreements into language that’s accessible to businesses,” he says. “I’ve been on the other side of that, where you [as a business] understand that there are massive changes going on, but are not always able to access information on the impact and effects.”

Thinking about what makes a good trade professional, Morley points to good communication skills, the ability to maintain relationships across different groups and a period of time, and the capacity to “manage both the urgent, last-minute things that you didn’t see coming, and to look longer term and plan strategically”.


This article originally appeared in the spring 2023 issue of Civil Service World. Read the full issue here

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