It has been another frustrating week for those hoping for a decisive Brexit roadmap from the government.
But while battles over the customs union continue to rage, we would do well to remember that the UK should be setting its sights far beyond the borders of Europe.
Last week, the Prime Minister was in China, and yesterday she met representatives of Japanese companies to discuss investment. These meetings did not get as much coverage as they deserve, in the whirlwind of political drama and warnings from Brussels, but they should be as high on the priority list as the ongoing Brexit negotiations – not only may they be more successful, but relations with Asia are just as crucial to Britain’s long-term prosperity as anything happening in Europe.
Asian engagement is no longer an optional extra. It has already been five years since the size of the Asian middle class surpassed the entire population of Europe, while the region accounts for over half of all global growth.
This has not gone unnoticed by the government. Mark Field is championing British business in Asia, from South Korea to Singapore, while Liam Fox wrote in these pages last week on the GREAT Festival of Innovation in Hong Kong, where UK companies, led by the Department for International Trade, will come together to showcase the best that British business has to offer to the Asian market. Nor is it just about exporting.
Organisations and businesses are moving forward of their own volition, building partnerships, listening, and learning from their Asian counterparts.
The City of London Corporation launched its Asia Next Decade campaign at the end of January, which aims to consult industry on both sides on ways to protect and strengthen London’s ties to the Asia Pacific region. The ICAEW has been working with the Shanghai National Accounting Institute and Chinese tech firm Inspur on how big data can be used in financial services and other sectors, making the most of China’s uniquely vast and diverse data landscape.
Meanwhile, PwC’s recent CEO survey highlights opportunities for British entrepreneurs – 33 per cent of Asia Pacific chief executives are looking to collaborate with entrepreneurs and startups in the next 12 months, and 54 per cent are planning a new strategic alliance or joint venture.
The vision is there, and so is the will to innovate, collaborate and explore – at least on the side of business. This should serve as a reminder to MPs of all parties not to let tunnel vision over Europe obscure the wealth of opportunities that lie to the east.