UK ‘more nimble’ as independent trading nation says Truss
Ms Truss is expected to focus her diplomatic efforts on regions with the biggest influence on Britain’s security and commercial interests, Foreign and Commonwealth Office insiders familiar with the plans told The Financial Times. Key aspects relate to building stronger relations with smaller states.
An official at the FCO said: “Liz believes the way to challenge our adversaries and boost Britain’s global influence is to build deeper economic ties with other countries… She’s focused on deepening trade links, forging new tech partnerships, and working with allies to increase infrastructure into developing countries.”
Speaking of the model in which Ms Truss is expected to follow, the official went on to say: “Her plan is to create this strategic framework based around deeper economic, development and security ties, and set a positive, energetic tone for the department’s work.”
On a wider scale outside of Europe, the Foreign Secretary also has one eye on the ever-more geo-strategic Indo-Pacific region, with India, Japan, Indonesia and Australia all on the cards.
Based on the recent success of the AUKUS deal which saw the UK sign a security pact with Australia and the United States, leaving France raging over a lost deal of their own in the process, the notion of “strong AUKUS-style partnerships” appear to be the goal.
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The FCO also look to build more economic diplomatic bridges with trading partners, and hence why the new Foreign Secretary will reach out to International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to broaden the scope of potential.
However, it seems that the Foreign Secretary may have her hands tied a little when it comes to dealing with the European Union and its partners.
This portfolio still lies mostly in the hand of the Brexit Minister Lord David Frost.
One of the most sensitive issues still to be resolved on a regional scale is the impact of Brexit on the North of Ireland, with the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol overseen by the European Court of Justice, in spite of Lord Frost about to appeal that this supervision is scrapped.
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Talks are ongoing between Britain and Spain over the fate and status of Gibraltar, and there are ongoing talks between the UK and Italy, the Baltic states and the so-called Visegard group made up of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
Mr Truss has informed colleagues that ties between the French and British are still likely to remain in a poor condition until the next French Presidential elections have passed.
Although London expects Emmanuel Macron to win a second term in office, recent events have seen the president slip down popularity rankings. And with Marine Le Pen likely to push Mr Macron further this time, a closer call may be on the cards in the race to the Elysee Palace.
As the priority of the British now moves further East, former trading partners have slipped down the ranking in terms of British trade priorities.
The Latin American market, which once saw around a third of its imports coming from the UK has now seen its trade with the UK fall to around one percent since 2018, a significant drop in bi-lateral trade.
Africa too has seen changes, with Sub-Saharan Africa also falling to similar levels of trade with Britain.
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China’s rising economic influence could be a UK priority
With the rising economic power of China said to topple the US as the world’s largest economy by 2024, and the signing of several key trade deals in East Asia by China – including the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a trade and security pact, the RCEP, a regional trade pact, and the CPTPP, another regional trade pact application – much focus now lies on Britain homing in on such deals with autonomy gained from Brexit.
With the world’s economic mood slowly awakening from the impact of the pandemic, Ms Truss could see the FCO’s priorities adapt quickly from traditional political diplomacy, to outright commercial diplomacy during her term in office.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many more people around the world into poverty. Another priority for the FCO will be to pour funds into development as well as trade.
Stephanie Draper, the CEO of Bond, a UK network of international development charities and aid agencies, said: “It is critical that the new foreign secretary uses the upcoming international development strategy to ensure UK aid remains poverty-focused… the whole portfolio of the FCDO should focus on long-term, sustainable development for the most marginalised communities.”
The FCO must also consider the fallout from Afghanistan
There is also the fallout from the withdrawal from Afghanistan – with up to 20,000 Afghan refugees said to be resettling in Britain.
An open letter to The Guardian by Elizabeth Winter, Stephanie Draper and Christine Allen, all involved in development, said: “Clarity is needed on how the UK’s resettlement schemes are and will be operating, including who qualifies, what specifically constitutes a “vulnerable and at-risk individual”, and whether the UK has secured agreement from any third countries to host at-risk Afghans as they await resettlement.”