Sir Robert Peel once remarked that public opinion “is a compound of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong feeling, right feeling, obstinacy and newspaper paragraphs”. I'm not so cynical, but any of us who followed the Brexit debate over the last few years could certainly see his views reflected in some of the downbeat corners of the media.
All too often, the negative angle taken about our leaving the European Union can feel pessimistic , particularly for those of us who see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to regain our nation's sovereignty. Our successes are often denied the space they deserve, while challenges — real or imagined — are seized upon and blown up into headlines.
For the first time in fifty years, the United Kingdom is an independent trading nation with a government answerable only to the British people. Any big change brings challenges, yes, but to focus solely on them is not only wrong, but means that our tangible successes don't get a look-in.
One area that often flies under the radar is the work we're doing to open up markets all around the world, beyond trade deals.
As we said when launching our Export Strategy last week, research shows firms that export are more productive, more profitable and pay higher wages on average than those that don't. And there is, understandably, huge appetite for high-quality British goods and services worldwide, making it mutually beneficial.
That's why the Department for International Trade is working flat out to give British businesses the opportunity to sell their brilliant goods and services around the planet more easily than ever before — positioning us to take advantage of the markets of tomorrow and unleashing the UK’s full potential.
That means cutting through unnecessary red tape and working with our trading partners across the world to set the conditions in which British businesses can thrive. This can be tricky, and it can take some time. But, for the country, it's worth it.
Last year, we opened up access for major names like Diageo and Waitrose, as well as iconic Jersey dairy products and Scotch whisky. We clarified labelling requirements to achieve greater access to Jordan's £2.5 billion food import market, and worked with Indian counterparts to increase permitted investment in their insurance market by a whopping 25 per cent, supporting British firms to grow their share of a market worth over £4 billion.
In Colombia, we worked with authorities to support development of ambitious environmental regulations that will support green investments from British firms. In Japan, we helped ensure British sausages could be marketed and sold appropriately.
The list goes on. I'm proud to say that figures published yesterday show we successfully resolved a total of 217 trade barriers across 74 countries – up 20 per cent on last year's total. So much for the doubters, doomsters and gloomsters.
We must never forget just how much the UK has to offer as the world's second largest services exporter and fifth largest economy. We have agreed trade deals with 70 countries — plus the EU — worth £766 billion. No other nation has secured so many trade deals with so many of its counterparts in such a short space of time. And this is just the beginning.
We are making headway in dynamic economies around the world, and we have shaken hands on agreements with our good friends in Australia and New Zealand.
This paves the way for our accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (sometimes called CPTPP), a truly enormous free trade area with a combined GDP well in excess of £8 trillion last year. This Indo-Pacific tilt will hitch us to a fast-growing, dynamic region that we could do so much more with.
We're making great progress in our ground-breaking Digital Economy Agreement with Singapore. And we are preparing to begin trade negotiations with India, which is projected to be the world's third largest economy by 2050.
The opportunities available to a newly independent United Kingdom are all but limitless. In charge of our own destiny, we will bulldoze more and more trade barriers, and sign even more deals in the years and decades to come, giving our brilliant British businesses the freedom to look beyond the horizon and seize the opportunities out there.
Ranil Jayawardena MP is Minister for International Trade
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