Antonia Romeo reflects on the Department for International Trade's first year

Established as Theresa May came to power, the international trade department has spent the last year supporting business and laying the groundwork for future trade deals, argues its permanent secretary


By Antonia Romeo

13 Jul 2017

This time last year, the Department for International Trade was created, bringing together in one department the UK’s capabilities to facilitate, finance and promote trade and investment as well as develop our own independent trade policy for the first time in over forty years. 

It’s been a remarkable journey – over the last twelve months, we have secured more foreign direct investment projects than ever before, strengthened UK trade and investment links with key trading partners around the world, and helped UK exporters maximise global opportunities. Our ministers, who have visited 47 markets on more than 90 international visits, have taken the message that Britain is open for business to the furthest reaches of the world. 

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Our website,, has had more than 1.6m visits, helping more than 2,000 UK businesses to register on the government’s ‘Find a Buyer’ service, matching our creative and innovative UK businesses to worldwide demand for their products and services. 

We supported a trade mission to India resulting in £1.2bn of business deals, delivered the largest ever healthcare mission to China which saw British organisations sign deals worth more than £250 million and helped UK architecture firms secure a contract worth tens of millions of pounds in the UAE. 

Although we cannot negotiate our own trade deals whilst we remain a member of the EU, we are working to lay the groundwork for potential free trade agreements with allies across the world, and identify those areas where cooperation can be most easily broadened, and barriers to trade removed. 

So far we have established 10 working groups with 15 countries, including Australia, China, Israel, India, New Zealand, Norway, Turkey, USA and South Korea. 

Many exciting challenges and opportunities lie ahead but one year on, on behalf of the excellent team here I am immensely proud of the work of the Department and the opportunities the team have helped to unlock. We continue to attract fantastic talent, growing into a global workforce of over 3,000, including an international network of over 1,300 staff across more than 50 countries. 

Our Trade Policy Group of policy and country specialists, expert economic analysts and lawyers has quadrupled in size, and just last month we appointed internationally-recognised expert Crawford Falconer as our Chief Negotiation Adviser. 

Crawford’s specialist skillset with 25 years of trade and negotiation experience makes him uniquely suited to support the Department as we create a world-class profession of trade expertise in the UK. It’s a measure of the significance of what we are doing that we can attract the very best talent in the world. 

Our first anniversary fell at the same time that Civil Service Live 2017 arrived in London. I spent part of the day at the Department for International Trade’s exhibition stand, where I heard from the team about the huge range of opportunities in the department, both at home and abroad. It’s great to see so much enthusiasm and interest in our work. We look forward to welcoming more top talent as we grow our trade capability for the task ahead.

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