Foreign Secretary remarks to the Australian British Chamber of Commerce

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Foreign Secretary William Hague has addressed a business audience at the Australian British Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking in Sydney, Australia the Foreign Secretary said:

“The first thing I want to say is to thank you for everything that so many of you do for British business in Australia. We hope to work even more closely with you in the years ahead, tapping into the many great opportunities Australia holds.

It is a time to feel optimistic about what British companies can achieve and here I will seriously mention the Olympics. The Olympics was not just a great sporting moment, it was a real opportunity that we took for the UK economy. It generated commercial opportunities for British companies abroad, and it helped to attract foreign investment into the UK, showing that we are a dynamic country open for business and trade.

We borrowed some successful initiatives from the Sydney Games, such as “Business Club Australia”, which was used as the model for our own “British Business Embassy” during the Games. And that Embassy was the most ambitious set of trade and investment events ever held in the UK. It has provided a platform over the next four years for £6bn of additional foreign investment from those who attended it.

So we are capitalising on the momentum created by the Olympics. But beyond that, of course we’ve got a lot more to do to ensure the UK economy returns to stable growth and I just want to mention four areas where we are working to make Britain more competitive, using our Foreign Office, our Embassies, and business groups like yours we hope to the very full.

First of all, we all know that we must ensure that our economy adapts to the realities of the 21st Century. Anyone who runs a successful business, as so many of you do, knows of the need to adapt, to innovate, to stay ahead of the competition, and I want you to know that our Government understands the need for the British economy as a whole to succeed in doing this.

We know that many Western countries are slipping back in global league tables as emerging economies push ahead. We understand we can’t rely on unbalanced growth based on a narrow range of sectors and certainly not on ever more government spending. Instead, we need to expand trade, remove protectionism and encourage inward investment. We are engaged in reducing the size of the public sector, which has gone down by about 400,000 jobs in Britain in the past two years while the private sector has grown by about a million jobs. Which is why unemployment is falling month after month, in the UK, and we’re also reducing corporate tax, reforming welfare, tackling the national debt, investing in education and training. We’re trying to ensure that we maintain and strengthen the quality of our great universities and research institutions, and understanding of course that, like so many successful companies, it’s our people that are our greatest asset.

So we are doing all of that first of all…second, we are using our diplomatic influence to press for the bold measures that are necessary to kick-start the global economy. We will use our G8 Presidency this year to promote trade deals that will create growth and reduce the bureaucratic burden internationally on business. We will use our Presidency to give priority to international action on tax transparency, and to tackle the corruption that is suffocating growth in so many countries.

Third, we are building up our presence in markets beyond our most traditional markets in Europe and North America as well as maintaining our place in those markets. We will be highly active in the European Union in debates on how to deepen the Single Market in areas like the digital economy, services and energy, and we will complete free trade deals with other parts of the world which will be vital to European growth and competitiveness.

And on top of all of that, Britain is selling more to high growth economies in Asia and Latin America. That requires influence where it counts, which is why we are the only country in Europe to be advancing our diplomatic presence around the world: we are opening new posts, we are increasing our diplomatic staff with expertise in economics and commercial diplomacy.

By 2015 we will have opened up to twenty new British diplomatic Embassies and Consulates, eight of them in the Asia-Pacific region. We are now, with the opening of our Embassy in Laos, which I opened two months ago, one of only three European countries represented in every single country of the ASEAN.

We have the largest diplomatic network in India now of any country in the world. We are equipping our diplomats to do business in Asia, with a 40% increase in the number speaking Chinese languages. We are reinforcing our Embassies with additional staff on the commercial side in Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Korea and Mongolia.

This expansion of Britain’s diplomatic footprint is already bringing results, or contributing to results, as last year we had a very significant increase in exports to markets such as China, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

So we are going to continue that effort, that really has only just begun. That includes working harder to maintain and expand our share of the Australian market. We are Australia’s sixth largest two-way trading partner, and UK exports to this country reached £10 billion for the first time last year. Australia is also the tenth largest foreign investor in the UK and any visitor to the Olympics last year would have passed through the stunning new Westfield Mall at Stratford Station, which had 47 million customers in its first year of operation. For many Australian companies, a presence in the UK is a launchpad into Europe and to other parts of the world.

So we are determined to increase the investment we’re making in all of this and our network of five diplomatic posts across this country will have a significant role, as they already do, in making that happen.

Our Consulates in Australia have held three events over the past year to help promote partnerships between British, Australian and Chinese companies. And Arrow Energy in Queensland, the joint venture between Shell and Petro China which has grown a small private business into a five billion dollar natural gas export project, is one example of British and Chinese companies partnering in Australia. But both British and Australian businesses will be better placed to benefit from the huge opportunities in Asia if we continue to work together and intensify this sort of cooperation.

And, finally, the fourth area we are working on is how we help Chambers of Commerce to provide more support to companies that are trying to enter new markets and increase their trading activities. Lord Green, our Trade Minister, recently announced an £8m pilot project to strengthen overseas business groupings in high growth markets. We hope to expand this initiative to Chambers of Commerce in other countries. This should enable business groups to become a stronger and more integrated resource for UK companies, working alongside the Foreign Office and UKTI to offer an even more compelling range of services, helping us to meet our national, our demanding but necessary national target to double exports to £1 trillion by the year 2020.

So, these are examples of action we’re taking at home and abroad to ensure that Britain remains competitive, that our companies have the support they need to enter new markets, as well as to maintain our position in established markets, and to ensure that we reinforce our messages about what Britain has to offer potential investors:

We have one of the most stable political and economic environments in the world; we have gone up the World Bank rankings for Ease of Doing Business to 7th in the world and 2nd in the European Union.

We are the number one location for European headquarters.

We are ranked as the number one financial centre in the world.

Four of the world’s top ten universities are in the UK.

We have a business-focused tax environment that will become more attractive over the next two years as we reduce corporation tax to 21 percent.

We’ve one of the strongest research and development bases in Europe.

And, we have a highly-skilled, committed and flexible workforce.

Emphasising these attributes requires us to work closely with groups such as yours, who play a very important role in fostering links between business leaders in Australia, Asia and further afield. We live in a world where connections are more important than ever before in creating the opportunities we need.

So you can be assured that the Foreign Office, UK Trade & Investment, our Ministers, and our overseas network will support you in this task. And, at the same time, we will reinforce our efforts to promote the United Kingdom for what it is: a world-class destination for foreign investment, and one of the very best places in the world to set up a business.”