Jonathan making his speech in Canary Wharf
Jonathan making his speech in Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf, Wednesday 15 November 2023.


Thank you, Julianne. It’s great to hear your experiences of exporting and growing your business.


It’s also wonderful to be here today in Canary Wharf.

This whole area is a potent symbol of the UK’s role in international trade, both in the past and in the present.

What I’m here to talk about today, however, is the future.


I want to discuss why I think the approach of the Conservative Party to trade over the last few years has been deficient.

I want to spell out how a better approach would link trade and industrial policy, to better deliver for British businesses and consumers

And I want to set out where Labour stands on some of the immediate issues we face.


I also want to say how pleased I am personally to be doing this job, taking over from my good friend Nick Thomas Symonds who did a fantastic job.

It is also wonderful to be supported in this role by an exceptionally able team, working with Gareth Thomas, Afzal Khan, Rushanara Ali, Sarah Jones and Justin Madders.


Since becoming Labour’s Business Secretary 2 years ago, I’m extremely proud of the relationship we’ve built with business in the UK.


That relationship is a significant demonstration, of just how much the Labour Party has changed since 2019.


In this new job, I hope to do for an international audience, what I’ve tried to do for domestic businesses.


I think I might have had breakfast with most of the people in this room,

And so now I may have to learn how to say “prawn cocktail offensive” in a few different languages…


But I hope you know me by now,

And that I see my role as to listen, to engage, to communicate our plans clearly, and to try and solve problems, rather than cause them.


And it is my genuine belief that the major economic issues the UK faces – low investment, low growth, poor productivity – can only be fixed with a better relationship between Government and the private sector.

The response to that genuine desire for partnership has been immense.


Our approach to trade will be no different.

We will be as pro-trade, as we are pro-business.

My main message today, is to achieve the highest sustained growth in the G7,

We need to do trade policy differently to how we’ve done it since Brexit,

and doing it differently means a consistent approach across all of Government,

rather than just headline grabbing initiatives or short-term political priorities.


But firstly, it’s important to recognise and understand the world we’re in right now.


This is a very different environment to the one we faced just a few years ago.


We are living in an age where the line between domestic industrial policy, and foreign policy, is not an easy one to define.


This is most visible in the United States, as articulated by Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor, earlier this year.


And seen in the EU with the Green Deal Industrial Plan.


There’s a much greater focus on resilient and diversified supply chains;

on ensuring high standards in employment rights and the environment;

and a recognition that Western industrial capacity is still important.


It’s an agenda we in the Labour Party share, as Rachel Reeves described in her speech on ‘securonomics’.

And it’s not the globalisation of the 1990s,

but it would be wrong to think that it’s a return to protectionism or rejection of the importance of trade.


It is an acknowledgement that the threats of today require a more active state,

pursuing a modern industrial strategy underpinned by international structures,

that facilitates cooperation and allows us to move forward more quickly with our allies.


I believe the job for us in the UK, in response to this new era, is to ensure we properly adjust to it,

And being ruthless about what we want to achieve by always basing trade in our domestic economic priorities.


And that brings me to where I think the Conservative Government have got it wrong.


After I got this job, one person said to me the that biggest impact trade policy has had on the UK since Brexit, is that it provided a springboard for Liz Truss to become Prime Minister.


Surely we can, and must, do better than that.


I do not accept that the priorities of our trade policy should be dictated by someone’s leadership ambitions,

And as a consequence I believe, there has been too great a focus on quantity, over quality,

With the few deals being done simply to be presented as political wins to prove we’re no longer in a Customs Union.


There is no clear statement of trade policy or priorities from the Government,

or a view of how trade strategy aligns with wider objectives.


Perhaps, as we don’t have an industrial strategy either, that’s inevitable.


And whilst some of those deals were simply rollovers from the ones we were party to as a member of the EU,

We are stretching ourselves very thin.


Currently negotiating several separate FTAs – with India, Mexico, Canada, the Gulf and now Türkiye.

We’re seeking multiple Memoranda of Understanding with US states;

And we’re ratifying CPTPP and, preparing for the TCA review in 2025.


But what is the coherent strategy underpinning to these deals?

What are our national priorities?

What’s our story that we’re telling to the world about why they should come here?


Too much of the analysis of these deals is about the politics of them, in terms of who leads these countries at present,

or what it means for the future of the UK/EU relationship,

rather than of the economic objectives we’re seeking to achieve.


There’s too much talk of tariffs, which whilst significant in some cases, are often far less of an issue than agreements on

data, recognition of qualifications, and regulatory alignment.


And it’s that deeper, more substantive, and more focused policy I want to move our trade strategy towards.


The antidote to the scatter gun approach the Conservatives have taken

is a clear trade strategy, that puts the country first.

And that is what Labour will deliver.


The next Labour government will finally publish the Trade White Paper this Government have failed to do,

one that businesses will have shaped so they can have confidence when exploring new markets,

And crucially that strategy will be connected to our industrial and foreign objectives.


Rather than throwing as much as possible at the wall and hoping it sticks,

Labour will act in the country’s best interests,

and pursue deals that open new markets, or strengthen existing ones for exporters.


That means clear connections between our industrial strategy –

on things like clean power,

data for the public good,

and resilient supply chains –

with the trade deals we are seeking.

Deals that bolster our national security

And that do not seek to undermine core Labour values such as workers’ rights, environmental protections and fair trade.


Now, to achieve these objectives, we will have to use every tool at our disposal.

Whilst free trade agreements will always play a role,

especially in ensuring access for UK manufacturing; something I consider non-negotiable

They only represent one tool in our arsenal.


And there are far more straightforward and quicker ways to lower barriers and get the substance of what we would want from an FTA.

That’s why a Labour trade strategy will use every lever,

Including standalone digital and mutual recognition agreements to promote UK services exports;

and critical mineral agreements for our manufacturers.


An example of something I do think the Government have got right is the digital agreement with Singapore.

And whilst these get less attention than the Free Trade Agreements, they often make just as much impact in practice.


Labour’s trade strategy will also back every business that wants to trade internationally.

It was wonderful to hear your story Juliane – and I think you will all agree with me we don’t have enough Julianne’s in the UK,

Because we are making it far too hard for business leaders like her to succeed.

British goods and services are in demand around the world,

And the small manufacturer in Bolton, or the service provider in the Swindon aren’t lacking ambition or drive,

But increasing British exports isn’t going to happen by accident.

It needs a Government that wants to make it happen.


Making sure our business have what they need to export is just as important as securing the market access in the first place.


There is a perception in the business community that it’s only for large companies,

And the inability to properly navigate what should be straightforward guidance is holding too many firms back.


That is why I am pleased to announce we will be working with the Federation of Small Businesses on an export taskforce,

That will look at the practical ways we can remove the barriers to exports for firms of all sizes and improve guidance to make exporting easier,



It’s no wonder small business is struggling to export when

I have firms tell me they find the information they need from foreign government websites because ours isn’t good enough,

or they have been invited to trade shows with only a few days’ notice.


And in the rush to sign as many FTAs as possible we are not allocating enough resource to properly implement the deals we have.

While it may not grab headlines – getting the basics right matters,

And I look forward to working with FSB and others to vastly improve our offer to businesses looking to export.


Finally, I think more people need to have a stake and a say in our trade deals,

with a much higher level of scrutiny than we are seeing now.


That starts with a proper role for Parliament in how Trade Deals are ratified.


But beyond that I know there is a view that the UK’s Board of Trade has become a talking shop not respected or listened to by government,

And if we are to offer the clarity and cooperation needed to properly link our industrial and trade policies together we must draw on a far wider range of expertise.


So Labour will give the Board of Trade a proper purpose as an independent advisory agency, accountable to the Secretary of State,

Advising on the impacts of regulation on trade;

horizon scanning for opportunities;

And because trade is integral to every region and nation in the UK, it will have an explicit duty to report against how each region and nation is performing to boost opportunities for the whole of the UK.


Of course, right now there are a number of negotiations we might inherit, and people will want to know our view on them.

I welcome the progress the Government have made on our accession to CPTPP and we are very interested by the opportunities it will bring.

But there is much more work to do; and we will be scrutinising that deal in the months to come, but we will do so in good faith.


A future Labour Government will also be tasked with undertaking a review of the TCA, a role taken on by my colleagues in the Cabinet Office.


Brexit is a settled matter.

Labour will not be seeking to rejoin the single market or the customs union or seek to reopen the wounds of the past.


But it is right that we get a better deal because the Conservatives’ ‘oven-ready deal’ –

even with the seasoning of the Windsor Framework

is not working as it should for our businesses.


Improvements can, and should, be found.


If New Zealand can have a veterinary agreement with our closest neighbours, I do not consider it fanciful that we should to…

The same can be said for professional qualifications, touring rights and intercompany transfers.


I also want to make clear Labour would welcome a deal with India – one of the most exciting economies in the world right now and a country with whom we share deep roots.


But we will push the Government to deliver what was promised

and secure an agreement that will bring our two great nations closer together.


Clearly stability matters – so I want to give explicit assurances to those negotiating with the UK Government at the moment – will also find a willing partner in Labour.


And I also want to talk about our relationship with China.


As David Lammy has said, Labour’s approach to China ‘will be to challenge, compete and, where we can, cooperate.


The return of David Cameron this week,

as well as being proof of the desperation of this Government,

is also a reminder that the Cameron and Osborne Government showed an incredible naivety towards China.


Chinese investment simply cannot be treated in the same way we would other countries,

but trade is clearly one area where cooperation is possible,

and in our mutual interest.


But in respect of national security and the limits to investment in the UK in some circumstances –

I do not agree with the Government’s proposals to weaken the provisions of the National Security and Investment Act –

I feel the measures as they are now are sufficient and to dilute them would be a worrying signal to send, and be inconsistent with the position of our allies.


In conclusion, we have an opportunity to position Britain in a much stronger place on the global market.


But we need a clear plan to do it.


A trade strategy working hand in glove with our domestic economic objectives,


Defined by the new opportunities, technologies and markets that are opening up,


Helping businesses at home trade more and bringing our allies ever closer in a dangerous and uncertain world.


At conference Keir talked about a decade of national renewal, something our country desperately needs.


I believe a robust trade strategy that supports a resilient, growing economy is a key part of that.


Where business feels the benefit of their goods and services being sold around the world,


And customers feel the benefit of the best the world has to offer at their fingertips,


An end to the insecure, short term desire for headlines and a return to the grown up approach which looks outwards to the world with confidence.


That is what Labour has to offer the country, but we cannot do it alone.


That is why,

as we have been when it comes to the business side of the brief,

we will be working in partnership with business, large and small, to ensure our policy delivers for them.


So I welcome the opportunity to work with you, and draw on your expertise and experience,


To hardwire that clear eyed determination into the trade policy of the next Labour government.


Because I believe we can look beyond the horizon with confidence,


And boost British trade together.


Thank you.

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