Monday 24 August 2020 4:02 am

The City’s partnerships abroad will help drive the Covid recovery — whatever its shape

William Russell is Lord Mayor of London.

There has been much debate in recent weeks as to what the Covid-19 recovery will look like. 

But whether the shape is V, U, W, or even a “Nike swoosh”, one thing that will be integral to any economic rebound is international trade.

In normal circumstances, I would visit over 20 countries during the year to boost global partnerships with UK enterprises small and large, reinforcing why the UK is an excellent partner and place to do business. But while travel has not been an option in recent months, my work to promote this agenda across the world has anything but slowed.

Read more: Time for City pragmatism to override political posturing in Brexit trade talks

I have undertaken numerous virtual visits to speed the economic recovery through collaboration on trade, sustainability and digitalisation. Significantly, many of the countries we have engaged with are key targets for the UK government in securing free trade agreements (FTAs). This is an important point, as free trade with reduced or eliminated tariffs will be good for all sectors of the economy in the long run.

Take Japan for example, a country where the UK exports more than £4bn of financial services, and a market in which the City Corporation has worked hard to boost trade in areas including asset management, fintech and green finance. 

Governments on both sides have recognised the importance of financial services in FTA negotiations, and I am delighted to see a commitment to work towards reducing barriers to cross-border trade and investment, as well as cooperation between the two countries on financial regulation.

The US too, as the UK’s biggest single trading partner, is rightly a country of huge importance for the City. From meetings with our counterparts across the pond it is clear that there is huge appetite on both sides to prioritise financial and professional services in a future FTA, and negotiations could help set a new global standard on what is possible on cross-border financial services trade. We also hope to see closer cooperation on regulatory issues, which can play an equally important role in increasing transatlantic trade in financial services.

Let’s also not forget about our friends down under in Australia, where we have a particular opportunity to strengthen collaboration in green finance and fintech — two areas of our industry which will be key catalysts for post-pandemic global economic growth. Round two of FTA talks between our countries will be starting in mid-September, and I for one look forward to seeing what we can do together to boost ties.

Any good economist will tell you that global trade needs to be underpinned by a robust rules-based system. That is why the City Corporation is keeping a close eye on the selection process for the new director-general of the World Trade Organisation, with the UK government’s preferred candidate Dr Liam Fox. If he is successful in his bid, I also look forward to him making further progress on developing worldwide links in e-commerce and services, ensuring that the WTO supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

Closer to home, another thing that will speed the UK’s recovery from Covid-19 is of course a positive future relationship between the UK and the European Union. I hope both parties can continue discussions around the “virtual” table, and put in place the necessary equivalence and determinations as soon as possible. 

A rapid recovery — regardless of which letter it takes — would benefit all of us.

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Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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