Alok Sharma's speech at the Royal Institution Global Conference on Good Governance

The Minister for Asia and the Pacific addressed international delegates in the Philippines on good governance

Minister Alok Sharma

Madame President, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentleman. Thank you for that very kind introduction and thank you to the Royal Institution for inviting me to speak.

I am delighted to be here in Manila for the first time. And it is an honour to have the opportunity to speak to such a knowledgeable and distinguished audience. And may I congratulate the former President on her thoughtful and insightful opening speech just now.

As the British government Minister for Asia and the Pacific, I place great importance on getting to know this region even better. To understand its politics and business. And to know how the UK can promote our interests in this diverse and dynamic part of the world.

Many commentators call the 21st century the Asian century.

For Historians, though, the reality is that the economic centre of gravity is merely returning eastward. In the 1700s Asia’s share of global GDP was nearly 60%. Today it is just under 30% and rising.

And most forecasters predict that this will grow to over 50% by 2050. Some think it will actually reach that point much earlier, perhaps as soon as 2030.

So whether you are a commentator on the present, a historian focused on the past, or a forecaster predicting the future, the message is clear: Asia was, is and will remain one of the most economically dynamic regions in the world.

The world economic order is reverting to what was the norm.

And we look forward to working with you here in the Philippines in this new era. This year marks 70 years of diplomatic relations between our two countries. However, the links between the United Kingdom and the Philippines go back far, far longer.

Those links include Dr Jose Rizal, one of your nation’s greatest heroes. He moved to London in 1888 and embraced British language, literature and values.

And for those of you keen on history, you may be interested to know that in Britain we commemorate the former residences of historic figures with a special blue porcelain plaque fixed on the outside of the residence.

One such plaque adorns No 37 Chalcot Crescent, in Primrose Hill in London. And it reads “Dr Jose Rizal, 1861-1896, Writer and national hero of the Philippines lived here.”

Dr Rizal’s writings inspired many of those who led the Philippines independence movement. And I have no doubt that he would have been incredibly proud of the progress the Philippines has made since independence.

We in the UK have shared in that success through our trade, cultural, educational, scientific and people-to-people links.

We already have a strong trading relationship. The Philippines is forecast to grow well over 6% in the coming years. So it is no surprise that British investors and exporters continue to show a keen interest in your country.

Last year, the UK was the Philippines’ third largest investor. We have consistently been your largest EU investor. British investors include HSBC, Glaxo Smith Kline and Shell. British exports to the Philippines grew by 38% last year. UK goods and services are making a difference to high-value sectors, from energy to education and from Smart Cities to science.

And speaking of science, we have increased our Newton / Agham science and innovation partnerships in the Philippines. We have also boosted the number of Filipino Chevening scholars to 26 for this academic year. Both of these programmes aim to enhance expertise: boosting prosperity and promoting closer ties between our two countries.

And this longstanding relationship means we can also be frank with each other and talk about our values: democratic accountability, human rights and the rule of law are vital.

We will continue to hold these values at the core of our relationship with you, at the same time as we seek to engage on our economic and commercial interests.

I have seen that already in the meetings I have had so far on this visit and am looking forward to even more vibrant exchanges before I return to London.

As my Prime Minister, Theresa May, said in a recent speech in London, we meet today in a world in transformation. Few would have predicted the events of recent months and the changes they will bring.

The UK’s EU referendum was of course one of those events. At the time there were some dire predictions made about the consequences on the British economy of a vote to leave the EU.

But I have to tell you that the sky has not fallen in. In fact the UK economy continues to grow - and more strongly than expected.

Our business environment remains highly regarded - the World Bank ranks us seventh globally in the world in terms of ease of doing business - one place above the US.

The World Economic Forum also ranks us seventh in terms of global competitiveness.

We have a respected system of contractual law, as well as the lowest corporation tax in the G20 - clear proof that the UK remains open for business.

And we remain one of the world’s leading promoters and defenders of the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

We are a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

We are the 6th largest financial contributor to UN Peacekeeping.

We are the 2nd largest contributor to NATO.

We are one of the world’s biggest economies and a leading member of the G7.

We are a leading voice in the Commonwealth and an active partner in the G20.

And since my appointment as a Minister in July, I have traveled throughout Asia to China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and now the Philippines.

My immediate priority has been to reassure key contacts about the immediate implications of a referendum result that few had expected.

In my meetings with government ministers and business leaders, while the first question may have been about Brexit, the second one has always been about boosting bilateral trade and investment.

And since the referendum, investors, including many from Asia, have voted with their feet and continued to invest in the UK. We have seen the 24 billion pound purchase of ARM Holdings by Japan’s Soft Bank, the biggest ever investment into the UK from Asia.

The acquisition of Odeon cinemas for almost a billion pounds by Dalian Wanda.

The decision by Nissan to go ahead with their super plant at Sunderland, securing 7,000 jobs.

Investors and businesses fundamentally continue to see the UK as a good place to invest and a good place to do business. I am hearing the same message in Manila.

Although there are uncertainties, what is clear is the need for all those in positions of influence and power - whether in politics or business or indeed other spheres - to understand what is driving the transformations we are witnessing in the UK and elsewhere, and how to respond to them.

Some of these changes are for the better. Globalisation and the free trade agenda have helped lift millions out of poverty. Technological change has brought nations closer. International collaboration is helping to create a safer world and to protect our peoples from modern scourges such as terrorism and cross-border criminal activity.

But it’s not an entirely positive story. Not everyone has benefited from increasing prosperity or access to new technology. And, sadly, far too many people have not shared the benefits of prosperity and security in many parts of the world. That is why on the day of her appointment as Prime Minister, Theresa May spoke directly to the British people on the steps of Downing Street. Her speech included the following passage:

The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of a privileged few, but by yours.

We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls, we will think not of the powerful but you. When we pass new laws, we will listen not to the mighty, but you. When it comes to taxes we will prioritise not the wealthy, but you. When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few. We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.

And I think those words and those sentiments are ones that, in this moment, resonate across the world.

And an incredibly important part of people feeling that they have control is transparency and good governance. In Government, in business, and in every aspect of society.

In the UK, we are clear that democratic accountability, human rights and the rule of law are not just an end in themselves, but are an essential part of the foundations for strong, peaceful and inclusive growth and the prosperity of nations.

We have made great strides in recent years to set a high standard of governance.

My Prime Minister has made clear our conviction that fairness is vitally important in our society with people playing by the rules and being good citizens. That this is the only way an economy can work for everyone.

In recent years we have taken many measures to increase good governance. One example of this is the UK’s Bribery Act. Although it came into force in 2011, UK law has actually developed over a long time in this area. Indeed, the Magna Carta, which celebrated its 800th Anniversary last year, contained the reference “to no-one will we sell… right or justice”.

This has been against a background of increasing international consensus against corruption and the UK’s wish to play a leading role.

We also wanted to encourage bribery prevention as an integral part of corporate good governance through creating corporate criminal liability in the UK.

But we are taking this still further. At the London Anti-Corruption Summit earlier this year the UK committed, along with other more than 40 other countries, to a range of action in key sectors: greater transparency, resilience in institutions and effective enforcement of existing measures.

And in June we launched a public register of “People with Significant Control” to ensure full disclosure by companies of anyone who has any control over the business, not just those who are registered formally such as Directors. And we believe that this will prevent tax evaders, fraudsters and terrorist financiers from hiding behind “shell” companies.

We also intend to introduce a similar register for overseas companies, which will mean they will not be able to buy property or deliver government contracts in the UK without submitting this information.

And the government has recently published a “Green Paper”, a consultation document on corporate governance, seeking views from a wide range of stakeholders on issues such as executive pay and bonuses, directors’ duties and the composition of boardrooms. The British government is committed to being a world leader in corporate transparency.

And the reason for these initiatives is simple. A respected and open business community is vital for the prosperity of any country. And having a respected business environment attracts investors and gives them certainty about their investments.

We believe in championing these values to our friends and partners around the world and are keen to share our experiences. We have developed a number of programmes to help countries in these areas.

For example, here in South East Asia, we are working with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to help countries in the region implement the provisions of the UN Convention on Corruption, adopted by the UN in 2005.

This is the sole global legally binding international instrument against corruption. And we believe that doing so will help promote economic and social development in this region.

In other programmes, we are working:

to reduce opportunities for corruption;

to end impunity;

to reduce tolerance of corruption;

and to strengthen international systems to fight corruption.

We are doing this through a range of measures:

we are working with NGOs and governments to promote transparency and combat money laundering;

we are increasing the co-ordination among international law enforcement bodies;

we are using behavioural science techniques and digital tools to transform corrupt cultures;

and we are supporting a new Anti-Corruption platform at the OECD as well as supporting implementation of the UN Convention as I noted earlier.

We expect a number of benefits from this work including improving growth, better business environments and protecting resources available for development. As well as reducing global business costs and business uncertainty and a level playing field for UK businesses.

And of course you in the Philippines are doing a great deal on this agenda too. Against the backdrop of the multilateral Open Government Partnership, which the UK actively supports, President Duterte recently signed an Executive Order on Freedom of Information, with legislation now being considered in Congress.

The new Administration’s commitment to fighting corruption and cutting red tape, as set out in the government’s domestic agenda, is welcome.

And the British government is supporting work in this area through building the capacity of the Office of the Ombudsman, and working with media partners to increase public responsiveness towards corruption.

And inspired by the UK’s own “Red Tape Challenge”, we are supporting domestic efforts to reduce regulatory burdens and improve the ease of doing business. And today let me reinforce the commitment of my government. We stand ready to support your work to root out corruption.

And I want to finish by reiterating that the Philippines is and will remain an important partner for the UK in this region and across a wide range of areas.

We have had many high level visits in both directions in recent years and I give you my personal commitment that this is set to continue. Britain is open to you, not just for business but in very many other areas.

I look forward to continuing our mutually beneficial collaboration in the coming years, in the pursuit of good governance, and other areas, for the benefit of all our peoples.

Thank you.

Published 9 December 2016