Taken from an article in The Times
As the EU’s trade commissioner during the Brexit negotiations, I witnessed first-hand the tortuous decoupling of British trade policy from the EU. I will continue to argue that the UK’s global trade interests are best served within the EU, but as an Irishman in Brussels I know that my opinions will count for little in post-Brexit Britain.
What I can do, though, is give a friendly perspective on how the UK’s new independent trade policy can make trade deliver for the country and its partners — to help chart a course through difficult economic times and pay for the big debts and financial commitments the government has racked up.
Like the rest of Europe, the UK economy is set for a bumpy ride later this year. Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey didn’t mince his words recently when he predicted real incomes would suffer. Worrying new data from France and Germany on manufacturing orders also seem to indicate an impending recession on the Continent as well.
No-one doubts increasing government spending during the pandemic was the right thing to do. It protected jobs and insulated the economy. But there was always going to be a time for reckoning. It seems that time is now, sharply exacerbated by Putin’s shocking invasion of Ukraine and the resulting impact on the world energy, commodity and food markets.
What we urgently need is a path to return confidence and growth to the world economy. The UK can take a lead through trade.
First, it needs to work to resolve unnecessary trade spats. Most obviously, that means constructively settling the Northern Ireland protocol and avoiding a costly and distracting trade war with Europe. Moreover, a successful resolution will help to build trust and enhance trade relationships with the US and other trade partners across the world.
Second, the UK needs to accelerate its negotiations on bilateral trade deals, particularly when a US free trade agreement is no longer on the cards. Moves to advance a possible UK-India trade agreement go in the right direction. More need to be clocked up.
Third, the UK must look for ways to innovate. Thanks to blockchain technology we have ways to speed up customs checks, reduce red tape and secure cargos. E-trade is coming, as genuine digitalisation creates more opportunities and enables us to spot supply-chain crunches early. And in the fast-moving financial and crypto worlds, technology can be used to resolve money laundering concerns.
There is plenty of innovation happening — particularly in London. We are on the cusp of a new era of the internet, bringing with it a new wave of investments and growth. Industry is developing new products and services, with the politicians and regulators trying hard to keep up, fearful of the potential consequences of, for example, crypto markets or decentralised finance.
Rather than embracing it, they worry that the new technology could lead to more money laundering and fraud. What is needed is a better understanding of how innovative technologies can help the government, and bring trust into the system, as this Web 3.0 revolution takes hold.
The moment the UK left the EU, it lost its scale and influence in the geopolitics of world trade. It needs to replace those advantages fast. Embracing innovation may just be the way to do it.
By Phil Hogan – Executuve Adviser to The Proof of Trust