The Week Ahead in International Trade: Freeport evidence session, AI highlighted and NATO forum

Mon 23 Oct 2023
Posted by: Benjamin Roche

Screens with 'breaking news'

Like last week, this week’s headlines are likely to focus on the unfolding events in Israel and Gaza. The world of trade will also be watching as NATO holds its industry forum in Sweden, while UK science and technology secretary Michelle Donelan sets out the government’s strategy on artificial intelligence (AI).

Shakespeare speaks

The week also sees Kevin Shakespeare, IOE&IT head of strategic projects and international development, taking part as a witness in an oral evidence session held by the Department of Business and Trade.

The session, set to take place tomorrow (24 October) at 11am, follows an earlier academic session beginning at 10.15am. Both will examine the performance of England’s freeports and investment zones.

Alongside Shakespeare will be Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) CEO Stephen Marco Jones, as well as Stephen Phipson CBE, CEO at Make UK.

NATO in Stockholm

NATO holds its 2023 Industry Forum on Tuesday and Wednesday in Stockholm, focusing on a theme of ‘addressing the new strategic reality together’.

Following on from July’s alliance summit in Vilnius, the meeting is intended to “accelerate joint procurement, boost production capacity and enhance Allies’ interoperability”, according to a press release.

Defence industry executives are set to attend, as the alliance highlights the importance of cross-border “collaborative relationships with industry and partners” to ensure it is “successful in its defence and deterrence posture”.

Eyeing up AI

Tuesday is also the day Michelle Donelan is set to speak to think tank Onward on the UK government’s approach to AI in advance of the country hosting a summit on the technology next month.

The talk follows her appearance on Politico’s Tech podcast last week, where she explained her aspirations for the summit.

Stipulating that the event would not be “designed to produce a global regulator on AI”, she rejected notions of an International Atomic Energy Agency-style body based in Britain.

“We want… to ensure that this summit is the start of a network of countries working together.

“We have also talked to other countries about the fact that we have this world-leading [task force] filled with some of the best and brightest AI thinkers, not just in the UK, but from across the globe.”

The “network” could, however, serve as a prelude to a future organisation dedicated to ensuring the safety of AI, she said.

Committee commitments

The UK’s relationship with the EU will take the spotlight on Wednesday, when foreign secretary James Cleverly speaks at a committee session on the subject.

His counterpart for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, will also spend part of the day at the House of Lords, where he’ll be discussing the Windsor Framework.

The system has been in the headlines again this month as Northern Ireland saw the introduction of its red and green lane provisions, designed to ease the movement of goods into the region if they are designated for sale there, rather than in the EU.

An opening in the calendar

Among the week’s more notable international trade events is one that isn’t happening — a planned meeting between UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi is off, according to Politico Morning Trade.

Sunak’s visit to India was intended to help clinch a free-trade agreement (FTA), but internal disagreements in New Delhi are said to have erupted over the number of concessions India is willing to make to achieve a deal.

India’s cabinet secretary is also reported to have held a meeting of top government figures to establish their positions on the negotiations. The aim is to “find out the extent to which Indian negotiators could be flexible in the last-minute give and take going on in critical areas”.

A key sticking point remains the number of UK visas for Indian workers that could be included in any deal.


The trade ministers of G7 countries will be taking some time away from the Rugby World Cup final to meet on Saturday, where they’ll talk sustainable global growth at a discussion in Sakai, Japan.

Previous meetings led to conversations on World Trade Organization reform, building more resilient supply chains and dealing with economic coercion.

Finally, some breaking snooze. Sunday is National Sleep-In Day, as the clocks go back in the UK and an extra hour in bed is on offer — don’t sleep on it.

Other dates for the diary

  • Monday: OECD International Migration Outlook published
  • Tuesday: ‘Davos in the Desert’ hosted by Saudi Arabia
  • Wednesday: UN Security Council debate on women, peace and security
  • Thursday: European Central Bank make interest rate decision
  • Friday: Quarterly UK government debt and deficit figures released