The Institute of Export & International Trade has written to the two contenders to become the next prime minister – foreign secretary Liz Truss and former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak – asking them to prioritise four key trade agendas should they be successful this autumn.
The letter, from IOE&IT director general Marco Forgione, states that the four priorities are “vital for transforming the UK, delivering the levelling up agenda and meeting the aspirations of Global Britain now that we are out of the EU Single Market and Customs Union”.
After consulting with its 7000+ members, the IOE&IT letter outlines the following priorities for the incoming prime minister:
1. Supporting Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs)
IOE&IT ask: That the government continues to provide targeted financial support for MSMEs and establish an MSME action team of experienced trade and customs agents tasked with providing practical, bespoke support for businesses to trade
on an international basis.
2. Providing expert practical guidance and support to UK businesses
IOE&IT ask: With insight from IOE&IT’s regular research into UK export performance showing a reduction in the number of businesses exporting, “it is vital that businesses of all sizes get the practical help and support they need to trade
effectively,” Forgione writes.
“We ask that you work with us to equip these entities with the skills and practical expertise to trade effectively and that together we promote international trade as a core part of everyday business practice.”
3. Better co-ordination on Free Trade Agreements (FTAs): a cross-government International Trade Committee
IOE&IT ask: While congratulating the government for the “number and pace of FTAs that have been signed,” Forgione points out IOE&IT analysis “suggesting that very few businesses make full use of them”.
The director general goes on to propose the creation of a cross-government International Trade Committee, chaired by the prime minister “to ensure a joined-up approach to FTAs which prioritises the need for Global Britain to get the practical help and
support it needs to take full advantage of FTAs”.
4. Freeports and the skills agenda
IOE&IT ask: To link the establishment of freeports across the UK to a wider regional skills agenda (including apprenticeships) and to help build regional capacity and capability in international trade.
“We therefore ask that you encourage the continued development of freeports and the wider use of trade facilitations and digital trade corridors to link nations and industry sectors,” Forgione writes.
IOE&IT director Kevin Shakespeare explained the Institute’s purpose in writing directly to the two Conservative party leadership candidates:
“In a time of real financial uncertainty, it is imperative for businesses to know that the government has their priorities at heart. The IOE&IT regularly takes the pulse of our members to hear those concerns and priorities,” Shakespeare said.
“Armed with this insight, our director general Marco Forgione, has written to both Conservative leadership candidates regarding four specific policy asks, should they become prime minister, including additional financial support for MSMEs and a more explicit commitment to link freeports with the regional skills agenda.”
In media appearances, Sunak and Truss have both stressed their trade credentials, while taking opposing stances on the economy, with Truss promising large tax cuts and Sunak offering a more cautious approach.
Truss has reminded audiences of her success in signing post-Brexit free trade agreements while Sunak has extolled the virtues of freeports, eight of which he unveiled in his March 2021 budget.
Conservative Party members will vote this month to choose the next leader, with the winner announced on 5 September, when MPs return from the summer recess.