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Promoting and Safeguarding UK Trade and Investment

The UK is the fifth largest trading nation: our exports are vital to our national prosperity. One in four jobs in the UK is linked to business overseas. So the FCO has a key role in promoting our companies and products abroad. Nearly 1,500 FCO staff equivalents are engaged in commercial and investment work (about 350 UK-based and just over 1,100 locally-engaged).

UK Trade & Investment

UK Trade & Investment is the Government organisation that supports both companies in the UK trading internationally and overseas enterprises seeking to locate in the UK. Its role is to help companies realise their international business potential through knowledge transfer, and on-going partnership support.

UK Trade & Investment provides coordination across Government Departments, the Devolved Administrations and the English regions on international trade, and a voice within Government for exporters and companies investing overseas.

The Chief Executive, Sir Stephen Brown, reports to the Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and to the Board of UK Trade & Investment. A majority of Board members come from the private sector.

Promoting Free, Fair and Sustainable International Trade

Trade Policy

Britain is one of the most open economies in the world. UK prosperity depends on our ability to trade and invest freely. We are the fifth largest international trading nation, and the second largest exporter of services. Britain exported £189 billion in goods and sold £76 billion worth of services in 2001. Wealth generated by these activities makes a key contribution to Britain's overall prosperity, providing the resources needed to pursue our national economic, social and environmental priorities.

The UK Government works to promote an open and stable economic environment in which trade flows freely, stimulating growth and contributing to sustainable development. The continued strength of the multilateral, rules-based world trading system, centred on the World Trade Organisation (WTO), is critical to this. WTO rules are designed to promote an open and liberal trading system, where barriers to a free flow of trade – such as high import duties or subsidies – are minimised.

Britain was one of the first countries to sign the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947. We have seen the benefits brought about by successive 'Rounds' of GATT negotiations - tariffs have fallen, trade has increased and the world's economy has grown strongly. Despite these successes, and the evolution of the GATT into the WTO, barriers still remain. The decision to launch a new Round of trade negotiations in the WTO is therefore a landmark achievement.

The 'Doha development agenda' combines new negotiations with a range of measures specifically focussed on the needs of developing countries, providing a package which reflects the interests of all WTO Members. The UK will be working with our Partners in the EU and other members of the WTO to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion by the target date of end-2004.

More on trade policy

Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001

Included in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was new UK legislation on bribery and corruption. This came into force on 14 February 2002 to deter UK companies and nationals from committing acts of bribery overseas. UK companies and nationals can now be prosecuted in the UK for an act of bribery committed wholly overseas. See the corruption overseas page of the UK Trade and Investment website for further details.

International Economic Relations

Reporting and analysis from our Posts helped to inform policy discussions in the international financial institutions. For example, our Embassy in Buenos Aires contributed to the UK input into the IMF discussions on the financial crisis in Argentina and the subsequent rescue package.

The UK, through the FCO, is a major contributor to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), paying 6.19% (£6.1 million) of the OECD’s core budget, as well as making voluntary contributions towards the Stability Pact and Investment Compact. The FCO participated in several OECD projects in 2000, including the review of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the development of common approaches towards officially-supported export credits. In addition, following OECD recommendations issued in June 2000, the FCO has provided advice to various jurisdictions (including British Overseas Territories - see chapter 11) on how to identify and eliminate harmful tax practices.

The FCO’s contribution to combating financial crime included co-sponsoring a project on money-laundering at the third Asia-Europe Meeting in October 2000, providing training assistance in the Gulf, and supporting organisations like the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group, established to mirror at regional level the work of the Financial Action Task Force set up by the G7.

In 2000, the UK signed new Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements with Sierra Leone and Angola, bringing the total number of such agreements to 94.

Security Information for Business
The FCO can assist businesses by providing information on security and political risk which may be faced when operating in particular markets overseas. More...