With his Asia trade mission in full swing, should David Cameron be playing the salesman for the UK?

David Cameron in Jakarta today (Source: Getty)

Allie Renison, head of Europe and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, says Yes.

Ultimately, it is businesses themselves that will increase the volume of the UK’s international trade, but politicians also have a role to play in bringing British firms and foreign governments together to discuss facilitating the flow of goods and services. The Prime Minister is a high profile visitor and his trip will draw attention to trade opportunities.

The UK has somewhat lagged behind other countries – Germany, for example – in actively pursuing these opportunities. We tend to shy away from the idea of “doing deals” during trade missions, while our competitors have no such qualms. It is encouraging to see that the Prime Minister expects that £750m in deals will be signed during the course of his visit to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The EU is negotiating trade agreements with a number of high growth emerging markets. But British business cannot simply wait years for deals to be signed before pursuing these opportunities. The time to act is now.

Len Shackleton, professor of economics at the University of Buckingham, says No.

David Cameron has a lot on his plate at present – what with terrorism, immigration, renegotiating our EU membership terms, restive Scots, cutting public spending, London airports and so on. We pay him to do this – not to sell widgets.

I doubt that hard-headed business people in South East Asia, or anywhere else for that matter, are persuaded to make investment or spending decisions on the basis of suave Etonian manners. The job of boosting British business belongs to companies and entrepreneurs.

They might do better, of course, if this government stopped hog-tying them with increased regulation, whether enhanced minimum wages, training levies, climate levies, Northern Powerhouses or whatever headline-grabbing wheeze it dreams up this week. When Britain was the Workshop of the World, we didn’t expect Gladstone or Disraeli to do promotional tours.

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