DIT gears up for negotiations as it completes recruitment of trade commissioners

Permanent secretary Antonia Romeo says department has appointed top team and will now focus on building capability. Tamsin Rutter reports on DIT’s next steps

Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

By Tamsin Rutter

06 Jul 2018

The Department for International Trade is in talks with the Cabinet Office about how to structure the teams that will lead negotiations about post-Brexit trade deals with countries outside the European Union, having just completed the recruitment of nine trade commissioners who will promote British trade across the world.

DIT, formed after the EU referendum in July 2016, has spent its first two years building headcount to more than 3,500, developing a trade policy profession and appointing a new senior leadership team, with Andrew Mitchell, formerly the UK’s ambassador to Sweden in a career spent both in the Foreign Office and as director of a British creative and communications agency, today being named DIT's ninth and final trade commissioner as part of a newly-regionalised network. Mitchell will work to grow the UK’s trading relationship with the EU27 – totalling nearly £619bn in the year to March 2018 – as well as promote trade with 15 other countries that are not part of the EU such as Norway and Switzerland.

Its permanent secretary, Antonia Romeo, told Civil Service World that the past 12 months had been “a year of recruitment”, with nine new global HM trade commissioners as well as directors general for exports and investment announced over the past few months.


The department’s 500-strong trade policy group, which under chief trade negotiator Crawford Falconer has just launched the trade policy profession with 11 heads of profession in different departments, is currently recruiting for director-level staff to lead on negotiations in various regions.

Romeo said that other departments will “have the sectoral experts that will essentially be seconded into the trade negotiating team. So that’s going to be both close working in the way it’s happening now, but also probably will be more formalised in some cases as we move towards actual negotiations”.

She added: “We’re currently in the process of working out with the Cabinet Office how we actually should be running those [negotiating teams].”

However Romeo also told that the vast majority of DIT’s work is focusing on trade promotion, not policy.  She said in the past year she had primarily focused on the bit of the department that used to be UK Trade & Investment – exports and inward investment, and overseas direct investment – despite the disproportionate media attention on trade policy work led by second perm sec Falconer.

The department has already made some headway with trade promotion: UK exports rose 7.4% between 2016-17 and 2017-18, while foreign direct investment projects were up 2% in 2016-17 from the year before. The two new directors general for exports and investment were appointed to “turbo-boost” that work, Romeo said.

“Year one has been a year of recruitment – having agreed the strategy with ministers, looking at where were the capability gaps to deliver it and how do we need to organise ourselves to deliver it,” she said. “So, I’ve made some quite big changes to the way that the department is structured.”

DIT ran an external global competition to fill the two DG posts, and Romeo said she was looking for candidates “who deeply understand business”. She wrote to all the FTSE 100 chief executives “in case they had people they wanted to put in”, and ended up appointing two people from the world of banking: Mark Slaughter from Citigroup and John Mahon from Barclays.

Slaughter, an American and a former Asia-Pacific head of corporate and investment banking for Citigroup, was chosen for the DG investment role because of his “global outlook” and “deep understanding of why people invest”, Romeo said. “If you’ve been responsible for investment banking you understand why companies choose to make investment decisions. So, you would expect that positions you well for a job where the role is to encourage more people to make investment decisions into the UK.”

Mahon, a former head of Barclays Corporate Bank, had “a real understanding of systems”, Romeo said – which is important in exports where, for example, a potential exporter in Birmingham needs to be connected with an opportunity in Singapore. “I definitely wasn’t planning particularly to have people with banking backgrounds but I think that banking, because you work with companies all the time, in a way that perhaps gave it an edge.”

Romeo was keen to involve across government in DIT’s recent recruitment drive. Alex Chisholm, permanent secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, was on the DG investment panel; Matthew Rycroft, perm sec at the Department for International Development was on the DG exports panel; and senior ambassadors in relevant regions were involved in hiring the new trade commissioners, who lead the global operations of DIT in nine key markets around the globe.

“DIT is a department that only works if we collaborate with other departments… it’s really important that we’re recruiting people on behalf of HMG,” Romeo said.

DIT has also recently organised joint executive committee meetings with the business and international development departments. A key priority is to align trade and development, and DIT’s single departmental plan includes a proposal to start taking funds from the official development assistance (ODA) pot – to which the UK has committed 0.7% of its GDP.

“As accounting officer I’ve got to make sure we’ve got the capability to spend ODA, because there are very particular rules that govern it,” Romeo said. But she added that it would make sense for DIT to be the department that takes responsibility for ODA-eligible activities that have “a commercial edge” – which build prosperity in a developing country while also enabling it to trade.

“We should begin the autumn with our whole overseas top team in post and… my whole executive committee,” Romeo said

She added that the department still had “some way to go” to build capability in some parts of its remit, and that her second year as perm sec would be about supporting her top team to deliver that capability.

A National Audit Office report published in January said DIT had “not yet defined the range of capabilities and level of capacity it will require” to deliver an independent UK trade function.

Commission Possible: The UK’s team of HM Trade Commissioners

Emma Wade-Smith, HMTC for Africa, joined DIT in 2016 as the regional director for trade, Southern Africa. Before this she had a number of diplomatic posts, most recently as foreign policy and politics counsellor in the UK’s Washington embassy.




Simon Penney, HMTC for Middle East, spent most of his career working in the Middle East and Africa, most recently as head of wholesale and international banking at First Gulf Bank.



Crispin Simon, HMTC for South Asia, spent 20 years as chief executive of medical technology companies operating in the fields of cardiology, cancer and neurological rehabilitation.





Joanna Crellin, HMTC for Latin America, joined DIT’s predecessor UKTI in 2015, and has worked for government since 2001 in a number of roles within the business department and Treasury covering issues as diverse as nuclear decommissioning, social enterprise and corporate finance.





Richard Burn, HMTC for China, was the first HMTC to be appointed. He has worked for many international companies in China including Diageo, APCO and investment consultancy Batey Burn. He has also worked previously as a civil servant, including as private secretary to Edward Heath.



Judith Slater, HMTC for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, was most recently the British consul general in Istanbul, having held a number of other overseas postings including stints as deputy high commissioner in South Africa and Singapore. Slater has also worked as private secretary to the Foreign Office minister responsible for relations with Asia.



Antony Phillipson, HMTC for North America, was previously director of trade partnerships in DExEU. His previous roles include postings in Washington, working as private secretary to Tony Blair, and high commissioner to Singapore.





Natalie Black, HMTC for Asia Pacific, joined DIT from No 10, where she was deputy head of the policy unit. Before this she worked in the Cabinet Office’s Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance. Before joining the civil service, she was a management consultant, and as chief of staff to the director of security at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games.




Andrew Mitchell, HMTC for Europe, was most recently the director of a British creative and communications agency with clients including Olympic bid cities and major Games hosts. He has previously held leadership positions in the FCO including as lead director for the work on economic and trade issues and spent four years as the British ambassador to Sweden.



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