Time for the UK to recast, reset and rework

UK Trade. The New Agenda.

There is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the UK to recast its role in global markets in a way which genuinely differentiates us, to reset our priorities on the sectors that will drive long term prosperity, and to rework how we collaborate together to deliver trade and investment success. #UKTrade

Trade and investment creates jobs and increases productivity by bringing the world’s best technology and ideas to the UK, as well providing access to export markets for companies. After leaving the EU, the UK is beginning a new chapter, based on asserting its own distinctive strengths. With its new freedoms to develop an independent trade policy, the UK is seeking to pivot to higher growth economies, and negotiate more bespoke trade deals.

At PwC, we started a conversation - across regions, business, government and society - to examine what the UK can do to drive trade and investment harder and better than it has before. How can the UK reposition itself in global markets to respond to new challenges? How can it recast its role in a way that is relevant for post-Brexit, post COVID-19 trade patterns? And how might we work together to deliver and prosper?

This paper brings together the insights from PwC's UK Trade Summit, along with data from an online survey and conversations with government and business across the country to develop some key recommendations, to set the agenda for change.

90% of respondesnts believed trade and investment was important or very important to supporting a collective recovery across the UK, 42% said that providing access to new technologies, skills and innovation would be the key benefit

The new agenda

There is a strong appetite to refocus on the medium and long term trade and investment strategy for the UK. As businesses begin to implement processes to handle the impact of Brexit and COVID-19, now is the time to raise our frame of reference from the here-and-now back to the longer term. Exploring the four themes below presents an opportunity to do just that. We are sharing further points of view on these areas to help advance the debate and develop a plan of action for the months and years to come.

1. Clarify and reinforce one vision for the UK

What does the UK stand for in global markets? What qualities does the UK confer on its businesses and employees that make it an attractive proposition for international customers or inbound investors? The answer to that is changing.

There is now an opportunity to develop a new vision that focuses on other strengths that, despite being harder to articulate, might ultimately prove to be more powerful and differentiating. As we exit from a period of disruption, we need to see government policy and the actions of our major companies reinforcing a shared set of values.

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2. View our priorities through a trade lens

The UK has some critical priorities that need to be addressed. From ensuring a fair and inclusive economic recovery post COVID-19, to the challenge of becoming a net zero economy by 2050.

Trade and investment can play a key role in delivering on these priorities, which, if successful, will in turn boost trade and investment. Viewed in this way, a shared goal like achieving net zero could become one of the defining business opportunities of this generation, and we will need a wide range of technologies, systems and solutions to achieve it.

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3. Play to our strengths and focus our efforts

In a world where export markets are increasingly competitive, the UK can’t expect to be good at everything. The answer may lie in having a balanced portfolio of priorities. This could include doing everything we can to support sectors where we are already leaders and it could include some sectors of the future where there is an opportunity for the UK to build a leading position. 

Whatever the sectors, and however they are grouped and defined, the UK should be focusing its resources where it will have the greatest economic impact (now and in the future) and where the UK can build or maintain real global leadership. 

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4. Make trade and investment a team sport

The pandemic has shown us what can be achieved when different organisations across the public and private sector align behind a common goal and shared values. We should learn from this collaboration to show that trade and investment is best played as a team sport. 

Making a material difference to the UK’s trade performance will require a collective response between businesses large and small, between the public and the private sector, between the industrial and financial communities, between the education sector and employers, and between Westminster, local government and the devolved authorities.

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Listen to our podcast

What does the UK stand for? What are our strengths? And what are we known for globally? In this episode of our Business In Focus podcast, Matt Alabaster, International Trade lead Partner, and host Emily Khan discuss the changing identity of the UK - and why we need to make trade a team sport.

Listen now

The number of elderly people aged 80+ is expected to treble by 2050 to 426 million. (Source: the UN)

Contact us

Matthew Alabaster

Matthew Alabaster

Energy, Utilities & Resources Deals Leader, Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7866 727124

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