International trade has always been a defining characteristic of what it means to be British. The accident that these islands were blessed with long, navigable rivers, never more than 45 miles from the tidal waters, meant that Britain had always been a natural international trading country. Our ancestors negotiated the trade agreements that made us part of the Hanseatic League, and improved and covered our infrastructure with ports, canals, bridges, roads and airports.
For Britain, the sea was the Internet before the Internet. It meant you were never far from new ideas, new places and different people. Our first pioneers in the field of trade took advantage of new infrastructure and technologies. They learned to make money.
Since Brexit, British companies have again adapted to the new systems and ambitions. The government is deepening business ties around the world, but it is the business that makes money. Our businesses usually love change because it allows them to question the status quo. Our new Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are already being used: because of Brexit – not in spite of it – Britain is still one of the largest recipients of foreign direct investment in the world.
Most business cultures are now impatient for us to go further, including the businesses of our largest trading partner, the United States.
While it is up to governments to conclude free trade agreements from top to bottom (and we continue to work to ensure this with the United States), there is much we can do to move the situation before we reach this point. Accordingly, I went from bottom to top, state by state, to promote trade in the United Kingdom and remove barriers to doing business. The bulk of America’s trade regulation is national, and 93 percent of the country’s economic growth is in its metropolitan areas. As a result, city mayors are as relevant to trade as state governors. They are flexible, practical, accommodating and have a local interest.
This week, we will sign the first of eight agreements in a series of agreements with US states that cover 20 percent of the country’s economy. Each agreement is tailored to the ambitions of our respective companies. We open procurement, deal with regulation and strive for mutual recognition of professional qualifications. This should reduce costs for companies and increase opportunities.
Our market share of services purchased by the US should grow. The technical professions and especially small and medium-sized enterprises will benefit. And such agreements will form the baseline from which lasting economic ties will develop. We will measure our success by better business facilitation as well as growth.
Our approach illustrates the opportunities that Brexit provides, which we can find wherever there is competence, flexibility and imagination. If an agreement with another country is not yet possible at the national level, then Britain will not sit still. We can build our relations with individual states and regions so that we can support each other in the event of a free trade agreement.
Basically, it is business, not politics, that leads to international trade. We can help, but not without the imagination and ingenuity of the business. Fortunately, Britain has a surplus.
Penny Mordaunt is the Secretary of State for Trade Policy
Listen to Penny Mordaunt discuss trade agreements with US states this week Chopper’s politicsThe Telegraph ‘s weekly political podcast, using the audio player at the top of this article or at Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast application.