The Department for International Development today set out plans to make the UK an “exporting superpower” and ensure “development and global prosperity are at the heart of UK trade policy”.
The Export Strategy, launched by international trade secretary Liam Fox, prioritises close working between DIT, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.
Fox said he wants exports as a proportion of UK GDP to grow from 30% to 35%. The strategy says that the departments working overseas will ensure their priorities “reinforce one another”, and that government will provide more export support for businesses in a bid to move towards the 35% goal.
The proposal has set out plans for DIT to support businesses in four ways: encouraging more businesses to export via several initiatives; providing information, advice and practical assistance, including via the great.gov.uk website and the network of HM trade commissioners; connecting businesses to overseas buyers; and providing finance through UK Export Finance.
Baroness Fairhead, minister of state for trade and export promotion at DIT, said the strategy builds on the government’s Industrial Strategy, and that to achieve the 35% target “government must join up across departments to enable UK companies to succeed overseas”.
The strategy says it builds on government’s foreign policy, and trade and development agenda. It states: “Trade with developing countries is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing poverty.
“Economic growth is fundamental for sustained poverty reduction, and opening up to trade increases a country’s GDP because it allows a country to use its resources more efficiently through specialisation, incentivises innovation, and creates new employment opportunities.”
DfID now has economic support programmes in the majority of countries where it operates.
Exports reached a record high last year of £620bn after a fall in the value of the pound in the wake of the Brexit vote and better than predicted growth.
Fox said the UK should set its sights high as it leaves the European Union and insisted the nation was “superbly placed to capitalise on the rapid changes in the global economic environment”.
Launching the strategy, he said: “The UK has the potential to be nothing less than a 21st century exporting superpower.”
He said the 35% target would “be used as a tool for us to work with other government departments, devolved administrations and businesses to leverage more transformative proposals in Export Strategy 2.0”.
DIT’s permanent secretary, Antonia Romeo, told Civil Service World last month that the department “only works if we collaborate with other departments”.
She said DIT had organised joint executive committee meetings with BEIS and DfID, where a key priority was to align trade and development, including by DIT 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.