‘Key hire’: DIT appoints ex-Barclays head as first director general for exports

Perm sec Antonia Romeo lauds department’s ability to “highest-calibre talent” after recruiting John Mahon

Latest hire is part of department's capability-building programme. Credit: DIT

By Tamsin Rutter

13 Apr 2018

The Department for International Trade has lauded its latest top hire – to the role of director general for exports – as evidence that it is attracting the “highest-calibre talent”.

DIT has appointed John Mahon, former head of Barclays Corporate Bank, to lead the implementation of the government’s as-yet-unpublished exports strategy as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.

The UK will begin negotiating global trade deals when it officially leaves the EU in March 2019, but will not be able to implement them until the transition period ends in December 2020. According to reports, DIT sources have indicated it expects to have at least two major trade deals ready to go by then.


The new director general post is the latest in a string of senior appointments at the department, which has attracted concern in the past after revealing it was hiring “almost exclusively” from within Whitehall despite the UK civil service’s known lack of skills in trade policy – a responsibility previously held by Brussels.

DIT has now appointed five of an expected nine HM trade commissioners – a new role tasked with championing British trade with some of the UK’s biggest economic partners. In post so far, there is Richard Burn for China, Anthony Phillipson for North America, Crispin Simon for South Asia, Judith Slater for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and Joanna Crellin for Latin America.

Mahon was appointed following a “highly competitive recruitment process”, the department said, adding that he “brings a strong track record to DIT and is being hailed across Whitehall as a key hire”.

In an announcement, DIT said: “His appointment is the latest step in a major capability-building programme underway at DIT, across exports and investment promotion and the trade policy and negotiation businesses.”

Mahon will be tasked with ensuring that new and existing exporters can access financial, practical and promotional support to sell overseas.

Antonia Romeo, DIT permanent secretary, said she was pleased to welcome Mahon to her top team. She said: “His appointment shows that DIT is attracting the highest-calibre talent from across the public and private sectors to work on our crucial agenda.

“Leading our work to boost exports up and down the country, he will play a critical role in putting trade at the heart of UK growth.”

Mahon said he was excited to join the department at “such as crucial time” and described his role as helping “companies everywhere to take advantage of the international demand for British goods and services”.

The exports strategy, being led by minister of state for export and trade promotion Baroness Rona Fairhead, is expected to herald new initiatives later this year. Fairhead said Mahon would play a crucial role in helping UK companies of all sizes to grow through the support offered and connections to market opportunities facilitated by the department.

International trade secretary Liam Fox also welcomed Mahon to the role. He added: “With the IMF predicting that 90% of global growth will come from outside the EU, his role will be key to helping UK businesses unlock opportunities around the world.

“John’s banking expertise will help us build the world’s best international economic department as we develop our own independent trade policy for the first time in more than 40 years – making the UK a global trading nation once again.”

According to media reports in Australia, British officials are expected in Canberra this month to discuss a future trade deal that both sides want to be ready by the end of 2020.

Reports this week suggested that Brexit secretary David Davis wants the UK’s trade deal with the EU, which is being led by the Department for Exiting the European Union, to be pinned down by the autumn, and he is now planning to send hundreds of civil servants to Brussels to talk trade.

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