What did free trade ever do for us? Create jobs, choice, and a route out of poverty

Greg Hands
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The Department for International Trade is the best export and investment promotion agency in the world (Source: Getty)

Free trade matters.

We have all seen first-hand the impact of breaking down barriers to trade, and, as some parts of the world lurch further towards protectionism and isolation, the need for a global Britain championing the cause of free trade has never been more vital.

This is the task at the heart of everything we do at the Department for International Trade. We exist to open up markets, giving British companies a route to the rest of the world, and attracting investment into the UK from old allies and new friends alike.

Read more: Protectionism isn’t just bad economics – it’s also immoral

Amid the daily debate on the UK’s future outside the EU, it is important to remember that in 2017 – the first full year since the UK voted to leave the EU – exports of British goods and services rose by more than 12 per cent to £622.1bn. This was a rise felt in every UK region.

Alongside the substantial rewards reaped by British firms abroad, the UK is now the top destination for inward investment in Europe, creating or safeguarding 108,000 jobs last year alone.

But the benefits of making the case for free trade are not just felt here at home.

We have seen how free trade creates sustainable, prosperous economies in countries we trade with around the world.

As emerging economies have liberalised trade practices, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty through jobs, industry, and stability.

This is why I believe passionately in the work that we are doing. We are more than a government department – we are the best export and investment promotion agency in the world, using trade as our tool to deliver prosperity and security for all.

We have come a long way since the EU referendum.

The department has brought together a more than 3,500-strong international team of trade negotiation, export and investment promotion experts.

In turn, that team has set out our trade negotiation framework in the Trade Bill, established the International Trade Profession to embed the development of trade capability at the heart of the government’s agenda, and worked tirelessly to connect problem solvers to people and organisations around the world.

Putting words into action, Britain’s international trade secretary Liam Fox will today convene the Board of Trade in Scotland to ensure that the voices of every UK nation and region is heard as global Britain forges ahead.

So why does free trade matter? It is an inherently fair system, it gives consumers choice and access to cheaper products, it allows businesses to grow beyond their geographical borders.

Most importantly, it helps create jobs, especially in developing countries – empowering people to trade their way out of poverty.

That’s why I will be at the Board of Trade this week, making the case as passionately as I can, and why the Department for International Trade is working to remove barriers across the world – to create a trading future that will benefit all of us.

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