The FT is reporting today that William Hague, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, is shifting the balance of activity in the Diplomatic Service in favour of commercial activities (and therefore at the expense of political activities). Ambassadors will be given targets for trade promotion, and be required to tour the UK’s regions to find commercial opportunities to showcase abroad, business people will be appointed to key ambassadorial posts, and Simon Fraser, a trade expert has been appointed to lead the diplomatic service.
I thoroughly welcome this move. A number of the smaller countries around Europe are very effective in promoting indigenous companies abroad, including startups, and have contributed strongly to their startup ecosystems as a result. Ireland and Finland spring to mind as perhaps the counties I have seen to be most active in this regard – and it would be great to see the UK government being similarly supportive.
Moreover, in my opinion the role of the state is more and more about trade and creating economic growth, and less and less about traditional politics, so this move reflects the changing nature of government generally. The largest countries in the world, like America and China, can maybe afford a different balance because a) they are able to influence the overall system, and b) as large countries their performance is more inevitably more correlated with overall system performance. The UK’s share of global GDP has been declining for decades (probably 100 years by now), a trend that will continue as more populous counties like China, India and Brazil move up the development curve. This is a development to be welcomed rather than lamented, but it does mean we have to adjust our policy to reflect our declining importance to the global economy.