By John Cridland, Director General, CBI
Trade is in the UK’s DNA — our trading links around the world have been the cornerstone of our economic strength for hundreds of years and have shaped the character of our nation.
But to maintain our reputation as a global commercial hub, we need to see a revival of this spirit of enterprise and to carve ourselves a new trading role in a rapidly-changing world.
This means not only working closely with our European partners to overcome the economic plateau on our doorstep, but also using the European Union as a springboard to increase our exports to high-growth nations - not just the BRICs, but also to the “Next 11” countries such as Turkey and Mexico.
At our London Annual Dinner last week, where Lord Mandelson spelt out the importance of maintaining our influence in Europe, I spoke about the need for the UK to fight to keep the benefits we derive from being a member of the EU — but to fight equally hard against bad EU policy-making.
Events in Cyprus are a stark reminder that the Eurozone crisis is still with us — and that we are witnessing dramatic transformations across the continent. We have to adapt to a multi-tier Europe, but we have nothing to fear from being outside new moves to greater political integration.
We can and must retain the benefits of the Single Market, while allowing the countries of the Eurozone to integrate more fully. As our relationship with our neighbours changes, our challenge is simple: we must benefit from the things Europe does well without being harmed by the things it does badly.
In the first category is the help the EU can give in establishing the UK’s global footprint - we need global trade deals to drive sustainable growth and create jobs, particularly when the domestic economy is struggling.
This is why it’s encouraging to see the progress that has been made in the first few months of 2013 on a potential EU-US free trade agreement.
Alongside ensuring we are well placed to take advantage of the economic lift that being in Europe can give us, it is also essential to assess our strengths and how they match the needs of high-growth economies - one of the CBI’s priorities for the year ahead.
As Director-General, I have been on several trade missions — most recently to India with the Prime Minister. I’ve had the privilege of travelling alongside some of our best and brightest firms to these booming “new” economies in recent years and I can tell you that, with the right support, the UK is well placed to substantially improve our export performance.
Most of the businesses I meet depend on their sales to the EU Single Market but are also busy expanding their exports to growing economies around the world.
Our successes in Europe and around the world are two sides of the same coin. We must build our markets with new trading partners even as we renew our relationships with old friends. That it is why it is crucial that we create a global role for ourselves in a new Europe.
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