How to make a success of Global Britain
By strengthening existing partnerships and building new alliances, leading by example in international fora and bringing along stakeholders, the UK can deliver an exciting inclusive agenda for its newfound place in the global arena.
Strengthen partnerships and build new alliances
UK’s trade agenda is a success story welcomed by the tech sector. The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement contains a number of positive aspects for the tech sector which go beyond comparable EU free trade agreements, such as commitments on data flows, e-contracts and e-signatures, as well as regulatory cooperation on emerging technologies.
Similarly, UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements and its enhanced provisions on digital provide additional opportunities for international expansion, particularly for innovative UK SMEs operating in the AI or fintech space.
UK’s formal application to join CPTPP, the ongoing trade negotiations with the USA, Australia and New Zealand as well as the upcoming negotiations with Singapore and Canada offer exciting opportunities to define a digital trade agenda in partnership with the global frontrunners in this space.
At the same time, the UK needs to bed in its new relationship with the European Union. The TCA marks the end of the Brexit negotiations, but the UK-EU future relationship has just begun. This relationship should be the start of a new kind of partnership. By working to establish a regular pattern of discussions and create useful forums around the TCA the UK and the EU develop an effective working relationship. This will not only help smooth out the impacts of the immediate changes resulting from the end of the transition period but create established channels for dialogue and settle a new special relationship between the UK and EU. The alternative is a fractious and uneasy settlement. This is not in the interests of business, the UK, EU or our shared allies.
Lead by example
The UK is in the unique position of having been a member state of the European Union and understanding both Brussels and Member States, as well as seeking new international alliances with like-minded countries elsewhere on the planet.
That offers the opportunity and the responsibility to lead the change.
For example, the UK can work with the EU, US and Japan to try to reach an agreement on ecommerce at the WTO. UK has an important voice, welcomed by the other participants, that it can use to advance those important negotiations towards a plurilateral baseline agreement on digital trade.
At the OECD, important negotiations are ongoing on finding a multilateral solution for digital taxation. With a more open to dialogue US Administration, there is real momentum for reaching an agreement by the end of this year, thus avoiding multiple tariff spats overshadowing the broader trade and cooperation objectives.
UK’s presidency of the G7, as well as its participation in G20, offer massive opportunities to drive an international effort for post-pandemic economic recovery, where technology can and should play a significant role.
And not last, COP26 in Glasgow is a key moment for the Global Britain agenda. A much awaited and needed successful outcome in the climate change negotiations this year will give additional credit to the UK’s standing on the international arena.
All these fora are important places for the UK to reassert its leadership. In the same time, it must make sure that the talk it talks abroad matches the walk it walks at home. A domestic agenda aligned with the ambitious goals of its international agenda will be important for UK’s credibility as it seeks a key spot in the global arena.
Bring the people and the industry along
For the UK to be truly successful in its international strategy, it must ensure that it brings all stakeholders along. That implies consultation as well as parliamentary scrutiny at all stages of the process. Transparency in trade negotiations with all stakeholders in society will be key for developing trust and ensuring public support for these ambitious steps.
Secondly, close cooperation with industry in developing objectives and negotiating outcomes will be important to build that cooperative environment that will help drive ambition while mitigating potential challenges for businesses as they adapt to a fast-changing world.
And lastly, government must allocate resources to ensuring that companies and consumers are not only aware of the new opportunities and new markets but are adequately assisted in making the most of the old and newly developed relationships.
We don’t have to get it all right from the outset. Nobody does. There is a reason why the most advanced nations when it comes to digital trade are in the Asia-Pacific for instance, they had years of experience in a field that the UK is only just entering.
Between them, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore are at the cutting edge of what an ambitious digital trade policy can be. However, these agreements are not pure innovations. They instead reflect decades of commitment by the signatory countries to push the boundary of what trade agreements can do for the digital sector.
Each step of that process has involved building on what has come before rather than revolutionary changes of approach. This is essential as trade policy still needs to be accessible to industry to enable them to take advantage of its provisions.
As the UK establishes its own digital trade policy, it should take a similar iterative approach and seek to join other leading nations to build on and take advantage of existing best practice as well as push the envelope of an ambitious digital trade policy.
Overall, this is a digital decade, and the more partners the UK government can have for the journey ahead, both at home and abroad, the more successful it will be. The tech sector stands ready to support an ambitious international agenda that delivers for the entrepreneurs and businesses at the forefront of global innovation, finding the solutions we need for a fast recovery and a better future for our people, economy, society and planet.