Hague was keen to point out that the diplomatic service has been put on high alert re. helping out exporters. Just as Cameron said this morning that businesses should be able make use of services offered by embassies, Hague pointed out that increasingly, those working in British embassies around the world are being given training in commercial diplomacy. The implication was that it’s now down to businesses to make use of the services - although we’d be interested to find out just how many potential exporters are aware that all they need to do to enter new markets is ring up the local ambassador. Presumably that includes complimentary Ferrero Rocher.
Naturally, Hague wanted to push the Foreign Office’s commercial achievements. Much has been made of the Government’s succession of trade delegations: among its notable successes are a deal in Indonesia for Premier Oil, oil fields in Qatar for Centrica, and the acquisition of a baidu brewer in China by Diageo. A new free trade deal with South Korea could, apparently, be worth £500m for UK businesses.
So far, so specific. But £500m is small change, compared with the estimated £20bn the CBI reckons exporters could add to the economy. And Hague was more cautious when it came to the question of how the Government is making conditions easier for British exporters. We need a ‘new kind of growth’, he said. ‘Our Government’s message to all governments should be that there’s no answer without growth’. It’s pretty obvious that new trade rules should apply across the board, but the foreign secretary implied that persuading other governments to co-operate is easier said than done.
Still, he clearly gets it: Hague quoted 19th century foreign secretary Lord Palmerston, who said that ‘It is the business of government to open and secure the road for the merchants.’ And given that stats by the CBI suggest the UK’s largest export economies are the ones currently worst afflicted by the eurozone debt crisis, that’s rarely been more true.