Board of Trade should be independent, says UK Trade and Business Commission

Fri 15 Sept 2023
Posted by: Benjamin Roche
Trade News

UK trade barometer

The Board of Trade should be a fully independent body, the UK Trade and Business Commission (UKTBC) has said.

In a letter released yesterday (14 September), UKTBC stated that an “upgrade” of the board was “long overdue”.

Importance of trade

Under the commission’s proposal, the Board of Trade would operate as a fully independent body, like the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), with its own governance structure and staff.

The letter said:

“With the UK’s trading arrangements increasingly central to the UK’s economic outlook, it is vital that you take this opportunity to reform the Board of Trade to reflect the importance of the UK’s new trading arrangements to the UK economy.”

The Board of Trade is one of the government’s advisory bodies on trade and economic matters, which offers advice to the Department for Business and Trade (as well as the wider government) on trade and export strategies.

The supposed benefits of this greater independence and reconfigured relationship are that the Board of Trade would be able to more impartially assess the UK’s trading performance worldwide and provide an additional layer of scrutiny, explained the Institute of Export & International Trade's (IOE&IT) public affairs lead, Grace Thompson:

“The functions of the Board of Trade have been of particular interest to the business and trade secretary (and President of the Board of Trade), Kemi Badenoch.

“She actually changed its focus fairly recently, (August 2023) to prioritise export strategy, in alignment with one of her 5 pledges for trade – selling £1tn in exports a year to the world by 2030.”

The signatories

Among those who have signed the letter is former Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, a one-time president of the board.

A Commission press release states that other signatories include “over 80 leading academics, industry bosses, former Ambassadors, trade bodies and trade experts”.

Also among them is Paul Drechsler, chair of the International Chambers of Commerce UK, as well as former ambassadors to the US Lord Darroch and Sir Peter Westmacott.

The revamp

A reformed Board of Trade should be “responsible for a range of tasks”, the letter argues. Among these would be analysing the UK’s trade performance and carrying out “impact assessments of new trade deals”

The letter adds:

"The agency should also monitor how UK nations and regions are affected by international trade agreements and conduct horizon scans to identify emerging issues of importance to UK traders and consumers."

Its shape as an independent body should be based on the “highly regarded” Swedish Board of Trade, according to the UKTBC .

The UKTBC, which is formed of MPs from nine political parties, provides advice and scrutiny on the government’s trade and business activities, including scrutinising trade deals.

The rumours

The commission letter comes on the heels of rumours reported earlier in the month by Sky News which suggested Badenoch was considering a revamp aimed at giving the body “greater prominence”.

A new set of business leaders are projected to join, including Anya Hindmarch of the eponymous fashion label, as well as Universal Music Group CEO Sir Lucian Grainge.