UK woos Asian nations to boost post-Brexit trade

A week after being appointed, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab embarked on his first overseas foray on Wednesday - a bid to boost post-Brexit trade links with SE Asian nations.

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Mr Raab, a close ally of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, went to Bangkok to meet foreign ministers attending a summit of the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)."For too long, our trade focus has been on Europe. We need to expand our horizons and raise our game," said Mr Raab."That means grasping the enormous global opportunities for the UK - and my first trip as foreign secretary will look to strengthen our friendships across Asia."This region is already worth £36 billion per year in trade with the UK and there are opportunities for us to boost that trade to benefit UK businesses and consumers."I'll also be looking at how we can strengthen our regional security co-operation, and work together on global challenges like climate change."The ASEAN bloc - Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - represents a market of some 650 million people, which is expected to experience above-average global growth in the coming years and become the world's fourth largest economy by 2030.The UK is opening a new permanent British diplomatic mission in Jakarta, specifically dedicated to growing links with these countries, later this year.During his visit, Mr Raab will attend the opening ceremony of the annual meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers and their gala dinner on Thursday. He will also have a one-to-one meeting with Thailand's Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.While business groups in the UK welcomed Mr Raab's initiative, they reiterated the importance of striking a post-Brexit deal with remaining European Union members.A spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said it was vital that the UK seized “the many opportunities in rapidly growing markets across the globe”.But he added: “We cannot forget, however, that the European Union is our closest trading partner, with 45 per cent of UK exports heading to the continent. The absolute top priority for firms is to secure a good trade deal with the EU, with frictionless trade for goods and ambitious access for our world-beating services sector.”Ben Fletcher, head of policy at the manufacturers' organisation Make UK, told The Guardian, “From a manufacturing perspective, about half our exports go to the EU, but that’s in keeping with pretty much every major economy – you trade in majority terms with your nearest neighbours.”Mr Fletcher said about a fifth of UK exports went to the US, with almost as much again going to other major economies with free-trade agreements with EU such as Japan and South Korea.“If you add those together, you’re already talking about 35 or 36 per cent of all your exports, which isn’t so far from the 45 or 46 per cent with the EU. We trade globally already and there isn’t a country in the world where British manufacturing isn’t exporting to.“We get help from the government on expanding exports, but in some cases even more intelligence from the Foreign Office about big projects or new markets would be incredibly useful.”Martin McTague, head of policy for the Federation of Small Businesses, said it was necessary to increase exports to SE Asia.“However, it’s crucial we have an orderly exit from the European Union which is the number one priority market for our members as well as replicating the 30 overseas trade agreements that are currently in place,” he said.
“At the moment, 92 per cent of small business exporters do so with the EU, compared to just 25 per cent in South-East Asia. It’s important not to fall into binary thinking.”Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.
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