DIT brings SME support in-house but is warned not to 'virtue signal' with 'woke trade policy'

Thu 2 Dec 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

The Department for International Trade (DIT) is to bring its £18m International Trade Service in-house to deliver a “more coherent and integrated approach”.

Aimed at SMEs, the service is currently delivered by private sector partners including chambers of commerce who provide face-to-face advice on exporting. The new service will be based in regions around the UK.

The Times reports that more than 200 trade advisers and their teams would be “in-housed” next July in order to “put businesses first by making services as easy as possible for them to access”.

Vote of confidence

British Chambers of Commerce said it was “surprised and disappointed not to be given the opportunity to formally make the case to continue delivering the service”.

A DIT spokesman said the chambers would remain a “key partner” on its export strategy and said “the decision to make trade advisers permanent civil servants is a vote of confidence and reflects how much we value them as part of that effort”.

With fewer than one in ten British companies exporting, the DIT is keen to encourage more businesses to seek out new markets to take advantage of the post-Brexit trade deals it negotiates.

Push to £1 trillion

The government has introduced a target to almost double UK exports to £1 trillion a year by 2030 with a new 12-point strategy and a new campaign ‘Made in the UK, Sold to the World’.

A new campaign to boost exports of British food and drink is the latest in a raft of initiatives it has launched to support exporters.

'Virtue signalling'

As post-Brexit Britain takes hold of its own trade policy for the first time in more than 40 years, the government is being warned against “woke trade policy”, reports Politico.

Speaking at a conference in central London, former business minister Vince Cable said: “The whole idea that gender, human rights and labour standards should be part of trade agreements is virtue signalling and it’s deeply unhelpful and actually is blocking sensible trade agreements.”


Others argue the widening out of trade policy to reflect voters’ values is a political necessity.

“’Woke’ trade policy is here to stay, and that’s a good thing,” said John Ballingall, a British economist at consultancy Sense Partners in New Zealand. “Trade policy has adjusted to reflect changes in societal preferences… and that’s no bad thing.”

According to Politico, it is accepted by the government that failing to recognise values held dear by the public could sound the death knell for future deals. 

Animals, the environment, and indigenous rights

Recent UK trade talks have had their fair share of controversy.

Farmers have sounded the alarm about welfare standards in countries such as Australia.

There were questions raised over whether environmental criteria had been softened to get the deal with Australia over the line, according to the BBC.

The trade deal with New Zealand contains provisions to protect the status of the Maori Haka, according to the Telegraph.