There’s a great deal for us to do in America
It might not surprise to you to know that as Trade Minister, you’re never short of advice. Quite a bit of it comes from people who know absolutely nothing about what you’re trying to do. But that seldom stops them. There is a correlation though. The most profoundly opinionated and often the most deeply ignorant. You always must keep listening though, just in case.
What the British Government is doing in America for instance is opening up new trade relationships. The most common criticism is that you can’t form trade agreements with individual American States. It must be done at the Federal level. This overlooks one fundamental point. We have been and continue to have, deep existing trade relationships with the US. If that wasn’t the case, how could the UK have ever become the largest single foreign investor into the United States?
Why do we work so well together? Because we have so much in common. Of course, we share the same language, but more important for business, our legal systems are very similar having had a common starting point – English Common Law. This knocks on into key areas of trade – how people are employed, how supplier contracts are drawn, how companies are formed and even the accounting systems which are used to govern business. On these bases alone, we have much more in common with American business culture and rules than we do with any other international country.
This is why there is such an opportunity. Right the way across America, you’ll find British businesses trading and developing relationships. Now at this point, I’d also like to dispel a myth about government and business. Most people in business don’t wait for government to come up with a set of rules before they work out how to do business with someone. The process is a lot more bottom-up than that. Firstly, people meet each other and recognise that they have a shared ambition. This develops into a mutual opportunity where both sides are equally motivated to make it happen. Then as the relationship builds, trust grows. You might not think this important, but trust and investment go hand in hand. The greater the trust, the more risk you’re prepared to take on. Like it or not, people tend to trust those who they understand and get on with. Common perspectives really do matter.
America of course is not just one extraordinary country. It’s made up of fifty states. Some of these place a greater priority on business, job creation and lower taxation. The representatives of these states are ambitious to attract global investment. They are local, practically minded and welcoming to like-minded people. And this has been exactly my experience. In every state I’ve visited, I’ve found business and political leaders with get up and go. They’re actively looking for business relationships and it’s inspiring. It’s not often they get international visitors showing an interest in the state and seldom ones from G7 economies. We’re pushing on an open door.
Of course, at the macro-economic level, there’s always room for governments to make it easier to trade. But in the meantime, while this is worked out, there’s a great deal we can do to broaden and develop business relationships. I’m proud of the people I’ve met in America. They remind me of some of the most resourceful people I know in my own constituency. They care first about their community about jobs and services. They think similarly, share ambitions and recognise that business just like everything else in life, is best worked out by people, not by politicians.