UK-US business links at the heart of trade

Speech delivered by Minister of State for Trade Policy Greg Hands to UK and US members of the British American Business group in London, 15 May.

The Rt Hon Greg Hands MP

It’s a long time since I left America. I was born in Rochester, in upstate New York, and I spent my first 8 years in the US, in New York and California; and then for most of the ‘90s I went back to work there, working on Wall Street, but covering markets and clients across America.

But then New York, and America: they never really leave you, do they?

Those of us lucky enough to live there always remember the dynamism and endless optimism you get – it’s easy to be cynical, until you walk through the cities which that optimism built.

And those, like me, who’ve worked and lived in several countries know there are few closer together than our 2.

Somehow, people always seem to undervalue the cultural factor in trade.

We spend our time talking about the technicalities of tariff schedules and the intricacies of international standards – but being able to speak the other person’s language is pretty important when you’re sealing a deal.

It’s obvious when you think about it.

Well if you’re an American business looking to trade abroad - there’s no other country you can trade with that’s got more native English speakers. And it’s the same the other way around.

But our links go far beyond language.

We have the same business culture – the French don’t even distinguish it, they just refer to it as ‘capitalisme anglo-saxon’.

Last week I got talking to someone who’d worked in finance, in a number of different countries.

He said, “the thing about the British and Americans is you’re both constantly worrying about losing competitiveness. But you don’t get it - it’s just so easy to do business here”.

That’s why we’re the 2 countries ranked sixth and seventh for ease of doing business in the entire world; why we’re the world’s first and second-largest service exporters; and why every single year, every single one of the 10 most reputed universities are in either the UK or the US.

That’s why the work British-American business does to forge those links is so important: so a big thank you, on behalf of the government, for everything you do.

And that’s why this excellent publication is so important. Yes, America is our largest export market: almost twice the size of Germany.

Yes, we’ve got over half a trillion pounds invested in each other’s economies; and yes, that’s huge.

But the statistics don’t matter in and of themselves. It’s what they mean.

That half trillion, for example: that means there’s huge numbers of Brits with jobs at American firms; and as the report states over a million Americans who have jobs because of British investment.

So it’s the individual examples, like the ones we’ve got here, that matter – the individual exemplars that we’re here to celebrate.

Let me pick some out. How about the 100 US service veterans who’ve got jobs at Britain’s Jaguar LandRover, as part of a dedicated scheme? Or the 1,000 US employees of architects Arup – skilled jobs from a respected company.

And those examples: they’re just the tip of the iceberg, a drop in the ocean, compared to the value of UK-US trade for our jobs and our businesses.

There’s 14,000 UK companies with US subsidiaries.

I’ve seen some of them in my travels across the US I have done in this ministerial job, way beyond New York and the Beltway: to Chicago, LA, San Diego, Denver, Ft. Worth, Austin, Seattle and Salt Lake City.

It’s almost as if I heard Horace Greeley when he said: “go West, and grow up with the country”.

So the government wants to secure and enhance your ability to trade with America.

And we’re taking steps right now to do that.

UK Export Finance can now provide up to £4 billion of support for the American market.

We’ve set up a Trade and Investment Working Group, to boost commercial links, before we leave the EU. We’ve already made good progress – for example, we’ve agreed steps to protect small businesses’ intellectual property.

And we’re laying the ground for a new, comprehensive trade agreement with the US – one of the great opportunities beyond the EU Customs Union.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the American opportunity is one we’re well placed to seize. Few economies are more complementary. Few allies are closer.

That’ll be strengthened when the President visits here in July.

To quote Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury Secretary: “As soon as the UK is ready we will be prepared to negotiate an attractive trade deal”.

Well - we will be ready. And from March 2019 we can negotiate, sign and ratify trade agreements.

But first, we need your help. We can’t let people take for granted the benefits of free trade or our Anglo-American friendship. It’s too important for that.

This is a fantastic opportunity.

Let us work together to make it a reality!

Published 15 May 2018
Last updated 21 May 2018 + show all updates
  1. Transcript of speech added.
  2. First published.