As the prime minister’s three-day tour of China wraps up today the Department for International Trade has announced the appointment of the first of nine global trade commissioners to be posted in key markets around the world.
International trade secretary Liam Fox, leading a delegation of more than 50 businesses to China, has appointed Richard Burn to head up the department’s global operations in China.
Currently DIT’s director general in China and a former private secretary to then prime minister Sir Edward Heath, Burn will lead on export promotion, inward and outward investment and trade policy overseas on behalf of the UK government.
His work will include developing a regional trade plan setting out DIT’s priorities in China as Britain exits the European Union.
DIT said Burn had worked closely with the UK and Chinese governments, and had “extensive business experience in China, including with Diageo, APCO and Batey-Burn, a market access and investment consultancy he co-founded and ran from 1989-1999”.
Burn said the UK already has strong links with China, and the east Asian country presents “unrivalled opportunities for British companies”.
“My role as HM trade commissioner for China will be to build on the strong links already in place, as we intensify the ‘golden era’ of UK-China trade,” he added. “My top priority will be to achieve better market access for sectors in which the UK excels.”
The department said that trade between the UK and China was worth £59bn annually, with British exports to China growing by more than 60% since 2010.
The UK has signed several deals totalling £9m over the course of Theresa May’s trip to China, it added.
DIT permanent secretary Antonia Romeo said: “I’m delighted to welcome Richard to this important new role in DIT, and look forward to working with him to maximise British trade with the Chinese market.
Fox said the department needed a senior commercial team to lead its work promoting trade and investment overseas.
“As an international economic department, we’ve moved quickly to appoint the first of these important roles,” he added. “With his existing wealth of trade and investment experience, Richard will provide intelligence on the ground, deciding what tailored action is required in China, and playing a vital role in our future global trading relationships.”
The network of HM trade commissioners, who will be “experts in their regions”, will be important in building the department’s capability, Fox said.
The commissioners will work closely with the UK’s ambassadors and high commissioners, and will also cover Africa, Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America and South Asia.
Two of the roles will also have Foreign and Commonwealth Office consul-general responsibilities in the cities where they are based.
DIT has drawn concern in the past for recruiting "almost exclusively from Whitehall", which lacks experienced trade negotiators because the EU has had direct responsibility for negotiating deals with the rest of the world.
Further commissioners, who will be sought from both the public and private sectors and will join the Senior Civil Service, will be appointed shortly.