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Britain is 'open for business' and wants to trade globally

After Brexit decision, UK aims to become world's natural business partner

There has been concern expressed by some that, on June 23 last year, Britain voted for insularity. That as a nation, the UK chose to surrender our place in the world and turn our back on our global relationships and commitments.

This could not be further from the truth and during my visit to the region, I will be making sure that that message is heard.

The UK government's ambition is to put Britain at the centre of the argument for global free trade and to become the world's natural business partner. The creation of the Department for International Trade shortly after the referendum was a clear sign of the UK's desire to be more internationally engaged than ever before.

We want to create a Global Britain and, as UK Prime Minister Theresa May said, while this means being best friend and neighbour to our European partners, it also means being a country that builds relationships with old friends and new allies alike.

As the Secretary of State for the Department for International Trade, I will continue to visit key trading partners around the globe to deliver the message that Britain is open for businesses and we want to trade with you.

Last month, I announced that my department identified more than 50 countries where we see a match between local need and British expertise. This is part of our renewed drive to boost investment and exports.

With its vibrant, fast-growing economies - consistent growth averaging 5 per cent a year and a combined gross domestic product of US$2.5 trillion (S$3.5 trillion) - and a commitment to build on international links, I will be using my visit to South-east Asia as an opportunity to see and hear about the huge potential for strengthening relations between the UK and this important region.

My visit begins in Singapore, the UK's largest trading partner in South-east Asia and which saw UK exports grow by 26 per cent in 2015.

British companies are ideally placed to contribute to Singapore's infrastructure development programme and our strengths in digital and data mean we are well positioned as an international partner for the Smart Nation programme.

In recent weeks, Singaporean investment into the UK has continued with Singapore Airlines placing another major order for Rolls-Royce engines and, highlighting the strength of bilateral trade and demonstrating British investment in Singapore, UK company Dyson recently opened a new technology centre in Singapore Science Park.


MAKING A CASE FOR FREE TRADE

While the current global climate presents challenges, these are not insurmountable. Growth in global trade is slowing, so now, more than ever, Britain and our free trading allies must stand firm and make the case loudly for free trade.

The benefits are well documented and in terms of prosperity, trade has freed millions of people from poverty while driving down prices and raising the standard of living.

The UK's vote to leave the European Union has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an even more open, dynamic, free trading nation that will enhance trading relationships globally.

With infrastructure and education presenting chances for greater collaboration, there are significant opportunities in sectors as diverse as defence, healthcare, marine and financial technology.

The Asian Development Bank has predicted the region needs to spend at least US$60 billion a year to ensure countries have the roads, bridges, railways and airports they need. While in the airline industry, increased global demand from passengers is resulting in new planes being ordered. Last year, over £3 billion (S$5.3 billion) of orders were made for British technology from airlines based in South-east Asia. British architecture and engineering expertise are already helping to meet the region's infrastructure needs, and I'm keen to explore what more British businesses can do to help achieve these ambitions.

Last year also saw British educators invest over £200 million on expanding their presence in the region. We have come a long way from early 2000, when the University of Nottingham was the first UK campus overseas, and there are now nearly 20 British universities in Malaysia alone.

My visit to the region is an important part of the UK's outward-looking approach to trade and investment, and I look forward to meeting governments and businesses to discuss how we can work more closely together to overcome barriers to trade and ensure globalisation acts as a force for good, spreading prosperity.

As the UK emerges from this period of change as a stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking nation, I hope this will lead to stronger relationships between the UK and our trading partners in South-east Asia, creating an era of even greater opportunity.

The writer is the UK Secretary of State for the Department for International Trade and president of the Board of Trade. This article appeared in The Business Times on Tuesday.

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