CBI boss urges firms and UK government to come together for trade

CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn will say that trade offers one of the most powerful routes to post-coronavirus economic recovery. Photo: Carl Court/Getty

Trading success depends on a “hardwire collaboration” between UK companies and the government to help create new jobs, according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Speaking at the business group’s International Trade Conference, director general, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, will stress that business must be round the table to make trade work for local communities.

She will say that trade offers one of the most “powerful routes” to post-coronavirus economic recovery.

“Now is the time for the UK to champion free, fair and open trade, particularly in industries of the future, from services and low-carbon innovation to tech and life sciences.

“Having business closely involved is the proven way to give UK negotiators the real-time intelligence and edge they need to secure the best deals.”

On the government’s “levelling up” agenda Fairbairn will stress that better trade outcomes will create new jobs across the country.

“We need to make the UK’s levelling up agenda a central objective of our trade ambitions and vice versa. Right now, the UK is Europe’s top location for inward investment and the second highest in the world.”

READ MORE: UK economy faces ‘perfect storm’ as winter looms

The CBI is also calling for the creation of an Office for Trade Impact to analyse UK trade policy success across regions and industries outside London.

Fairbairn will add: “The UK should be the world’s champion for trade in services and innovation.

“These are two areas with huge potential for future global growth and where UK companies are world leaders.

“Yet while the opportunities here are huge, so too are the regulatory barriers holding trade back.

“With services’ share of global trade set to increase by 50% in coming decades, the UK needs to focus more, and push harder, on services.

“Through regular and structured engagement, business can give UK negotiators the on-the-ground intelligence and edge they need to secure the best deal.”

CBI recommendations include: 

  • Champion services in trade deals as a fundamental UK strength and launch a global campaign to promote services and exploit export opportunities. 

  • Lead a global drive for inclusive growth through the G7 and G20, tied to discussions on economic recovery and links between UK aid spend and trade.

  • Integrate business thinking into UK foreign policy, taking into account trade’s significance as a geopolitical lever.

  • Share draft negotiating text with business and regularly consult the Strategic Trade Advisory Group (STAG) to provide real-time confidential intelligence in trade talks.

READ MORE: CBI urges UK to become global leader in creating ‘green jobs’

Additionally, the CBI boss will call on the government to use its global leadership roles in 2021 to champion purposeful free trade globally.

The UK hosting COP26 and taking on the G7 presidency in 2021 presents an extraordinary opportunity for the government to champion low carbon innovation and mark the UK as a top destination for foreign investment, Fairbairn will say.

CBI represent 190,000 businesses of all sizes and sectors, across the UK, employing nearly 7 million people, about one third of the private sector employees.

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