February 10, 2020

With the Brexit debate effectively over for a generation, it’s time for the UK to re-focus, lift its sights and re-engage with the global trade agenda. Here are 7 quick wins to get the ball rolling:


Adapt the GREAT campaign to include big-ticket policy priorities; digital trade, sustainability, climate change, trade reform, open markets, development, rule of law ... To be a global champion, the UK needs a policy message – what are we fighting for, how does it benefit the world and what does success looks like? The macro trading environment underpins exports and inward investment – they are two sides of the same coin but the UK has no clear message on major global priorities in the way it does for promoting exports and inward investment yet it has arguably the most dynamic global branding with the GREAT campaign.


Digitise all trade documentation - 4 billion paper-based documents float around the trade system at any one time none of which is necessary with today’s technology and all of which can be removed to increase trade flow, reduce carbon footprint, cut the cost of trade, remove needless bureaucracy and drive more efficiency. A typical trade requires weeks of documentation approvals between traders, shippers, customs officials, financiers, insurers – this can be cut to hours and days if digitised. Letters of credit, bills of exchange, commercial invoices, order forms, insurance policies, promissory notes, bills of lading, certificates of origin, payment confirmations and import/export declarations can, and should all be digitised.

Mirror the Singapore approach – align UK legislation to the UNCITRAL Model Law on Transferable Records and use all bilateral trade agreements to establish modern, digital trade corridors, particularly across the Commonwealth where there is already legal alignment. With 100 trade deals to be agreed, this could transform global and UK trade.

Invest more DFID funding in digital trade – only 1% global development bank budgets is spent on ICT projects. It is woeful when we know digital trade is a global priority and a proven solution to gender equality, financial inclusion, access to global markets and SME growth and resilience. UNCTAD Ecommerce Readiness Assessments cost just $50,000 each – for less than $3 million, the UK could make a huge difference to a lot of countries. Similarly, the UK has all the expertise to help governments put in place robust competition, data protection and cyber security frameworks all of which would make a transformative difference.


Remove the suffocating bureaucracy hampering trade finance - establish an evidence based, proportionate regulatory regime for low risk trade finance. 10 years of concrete, independent evidence through the ICC Trade Finance survey and ICC Risk Register have proven that there is not a shred of evidence to support the current regulatory framework. Treating low to zero risk trade finance [short term working capital for small companies] under the same regulatory restrictions as other forms of higher risk finance is madness. Being more flexible could remove up to £30,000 of box ticking and red tape for every SME as well as enable more banks in developing markets to access capital in the UK.


Convene the best and brightest minds in carbon trading to come up with a consensus-based solution to carbon trading that works for everyone – this is the single most important issue (Article 6) blocking progress in climate change negotiations. Few countries have the depth of trading expertise as the UK and Glasgow is the host of COP26 in December so it’s a fantastic opportunity for the UK to shine if it can focus and mobilise its resources effectively.


Ramp up UK visibility at all the major forums this year and promote simple, consistent messages ahead of G7 2021 – UNCTAD Ecommerce Week, World Bank/IMF meetings, UN High Level Political Forum, WTO Ministerial Conference, WTO Public Forum, G20 Leader’s Summit, COP26. The influencing process starts now for 2021. With 2030 ten years away, focusing minds on delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals has to be a top priority.

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