Opening remarks from Rt Hon Hugo Swire, Minister for Asia, at the Asia House Gala.
Thank you to Sir John and Michael for their introductions.
This is my third Asian Business Leaders’ Awards Gala, and every year I return with increased enthusiasm, optimism, and greater admiration for the entrepreneurial spirit of the Asian business community.
From the first, partially successful, British attempt to find a trade route to China in 1637 - successful in that it was the first expedition to land, less so in that it failed to agree a single commercial contract - to the £14 billion in trade and investment agreed between the UK and China less than six months ago, it is clear that the United Kingdom’s and Asia’s histories are intertwined. So too are our futures.
It is clear too that Asia - a lively and diverse mix of ethnicities, religions and political beliefs; home to half of humanity and increasingly the world’s economic power house - will define the next century.
In 1820, China alone produced one third of global economic output. And although the European and American centuries followed, the International Monetary Fund recently ranked China as the world’s biggest economy in purchasing-power-parity terms. This, when combined with the rise of India and the economic strength of Japan, demonstrates unequivocally that the brief interlude when Asia was overshadowed is over.
But no nation, no region, can succeed alone. Today’s global economic race is not a zero sum game. We can and must all benefit. But to do so, it is vital that we turn our historic links into vibrant and fruitful economic ones.
That is why this government has gone out into the world with the message that Britain is open for business. With an embassy in every ASEAN country, with our GREAT campaign, and with trade missions - unprecedented in terms of both numbers and success.
I have joined the Prime Minister as he has led the largest ever trade delegations to leave these shores - bound for India and China.
In the name of promoting trade and Britain’s businesses, I have ridden a GREAT branded tuk tuk in Phnom Penh, hugged a Hamley’s teddy bear in Malaysia and promoted Lush Cosmetics in New York.
I have met trade ministers from Beijing to Bhutan, and led trade missions to Burma and Nepal, opening doors and creating opportunities for world leading British businesses in manufacturing, engineering, retail, education, and legal and financial services – to name but a few of the sectors represented in this room this evening.
We are providing technical assistance to help the ASEAN Economic Community reach its 2015 goal and encourage intra-ASEAN trade.
We are promoting responsible investment, which can help alleviate poverty, improve livelihoods and help transform, strengthen and sustain economies - such as through the UK Financial Services Taskforce in Burma.
And we are stepping into uncharted waters: for example helping to build Islamic finance links in post-conflict Southern Philippines.
But we want to go further. Which is why we are driving forward Free Trade Agreements both through the EU and multilaterally, to build the networks that will shape the future of global trade – with the potential to link together, even more closely, Europe and Asia’s four billion citizens.
Next month I will continue this work with a visit to Vietnam and Indonesia.
This pioneering and relentless focus on free trade, fair taxation and transparency abroad is combined with measures to create an open and welcoming economy at home; one that attracts investment, growth, trade and jobs. Where the education, tax and regulatory systems, that have for too long held our country back, have been overhauled. This has meant that the UK has emerged from the global economic crisis as one of the fastest growing advanced economies in the world.
Manufacturing is on the increase. Exports to China have doubled. Exports to India are up by more than 50 per cent. More than two million new jobs have been created. Foreign Direct Investment is higher than any other European Nation. China is set to invest £105 billion in UK infrastructure in the next decade. And just last week, phase three of the scheme to redevelop Battersea Power Station started, fuelled by over £8 billion of Malaysian investment.
Britain has once again found her roots as an outward looking, trading nation that is leading the way in the West in nurturing relations in the East – and is set to flourish in the 21st century.
And last week’s highly successful State Visit – the first by a Singaporean President to the UK - showed not only the value we place on our links with Asia, but how we are adapting them to our mutual benefit: using science and technology to deepen our relations; launching a new joint Innovation and Research Partnership to drive the development and exploitation of ideas, increasing competitiveness and improving standards of living for all our citizens.
The State Visit was the culmination of exchanges this year which have proved that the UK is a natural partner for Singapore, the gateway to Asia, the destination for half of our exports to ASEAN and a country which contributes more than £1 billion to the British economy.
But we are here tonight to recognise one of Singapore’s greatest success stories, Ho Ching – this year’s recipient of the prestigious Asian Business Leaders Award.
Your achievements in global business, and at the helm of one of the world’s largest Sovereign Wealth Funds, are almost unparalleled, so on behalf of the British government I congratulate you on this most well deserved award.
We also welcome the ever closer relationship that we have with Temasek. We were delighted that the company chose to take advantage of the many benefits London offers as a site for its European and African headquarters.
Other speakers tonight will no doubt talk of Ho Ching’s achievements. But I would like to leave you with the reminder that the UK’s focus on Asia remains strong, with more Ministerial visits to the region; more inward and outward investment; and more British diplomatic and trade posts in the region than ever.
And there is appetite in Britain for us to do even more.
Events like tonight’s are a timely reminder of the benefits and opportunities that cooperation between our countries and our companies can bring.
And I very much look forward to celebrating the successes of the next 12 months at the 2015 Asian Business Leaders Awards.
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