In the round

Lyndonharrison4x3.jpgLyndon Harrison on promoting UK jobs through international trade

How we do trade abroad is of paramount importance? David Cameron’s recent trade visit to China, accompanied by the serried ranks of Tory donors and select members of the Chipping Norton set, achieved little in the way of real trade deals. 

It would be interesting to know of the representation of sinologists and small businesses who might have served the UK’s long-term interests better. Nor do I quibble at the effort to promote UK business, although the real achievements of some of the claimed £5.6bn deals appear to be “less substantial than others, or timed to coincide with the visit”, according to The Financial Times.

China’s media characterised the UK as a country which remains of interest only to tourists and language students. Doubtless, the People’s Republic of China were bamboozled by our PM’s somersaults on human rights. They must have noted how his interest in the Dalai Lama was set aside in the eagerness to promote British business. A more nuanced approach to China at the beginning of his Premiership might have served us all better.

My central concerns are that China must have been astonished to learn that the UK (unbeknown to our EU Partners) was promoting a future EU/China deal at a time when the Conservative-part  of the Coalition government here is planning an “In/Out” referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

The Obama administration is equally perplexed that Cameron should visit Washington promoting the Trans-Atlantic trade and investment deal, while seeking to exit the EU. As the President’s aides suggested, the US has “little appetite” to develop a separate UK/US deal. Were it even fashioned, the UK’s capacity to handle it as forcefully as the EU would be in doubt.

The Chancellor’s vain boast that he wants to double exports by 2020 as part of rebalancing the UK economy is fast coming unstuck, as illustrated by Margaret Hodge MP’s Public Accounts Committee.

The trade debate will set out an alternative and constructive strategy of securing a multilateral set of trade deals through the World Trade Organisation, of which the December Bali trade facilitating was an important staging post. But the Doha development agenda needs to be supported, not only to promote jobs, growth and prosperity here in the UK, but also to establish real opportunities for less-developed countries.

I shall explore the inadequate parliamentary scrutiny in the Commons and Lords, in the European Parliament, in the Commonwealth and in the parliamentary chamber of the World Trade Organisation. It is my view that Labour should complement our developing policies to offer an economic strategy in the UK to create jobs, by working with partners to promote jobs through international trade. If the Conservative-led government leaves trade neglected on the parliamentary shelf, we certainly should not.

Lord Lyndon Harrison is a backbench Labour Peer

Published 25th January 2014

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