Westminster Watch: It’s all up for grabs

Lobbyists for the business travel industry need to start influencing post-Brexit trade negotiations

Liam Fox (June, 2018): “The UK has been the largest G20 investor in India over the last ten years, more than any other EU country. There are over 270 British companies operating there, employing nearly 800,000 people… In 2016, approximately 800 Indian companies were operating in the UK, accounting for around 110,000 jobs and recording combined revenues of £47.5 billion.”

Liam Fox in the same week said the reason India had been excluded from a newly-expanded list of countries with relaxed student visas was because of “overstayers”. He said: “This is a constant conversation we need to have with India. There is always a demand for easier norms, but we cannot look at that without addressing the issue of overstayers.”

In the space of a few days Liam Fox showed the scale of the challenges that come with trade policy outside of the EU. Nothing is for free and trade isn’t only about tariffs and quotas.

India’s growth prospects
Let’s look at India. In 1993, 45 per cent of India’s population sat below the poverty line, as defined by the World Bank. In 2011, it was 22 per cent. Harvard University has recently published a study that shows India tops the list of the fastest growing economies in the world for the coming decade. It’s projected to grow at 7.9 per cent annually, ahead of China and the US.

India is a huge prize in trade terms and it is why we as an industry celebrate the new Manchester-Mumbai route or last year’s Birmingham-Amritsar announcement. What they want for access to that prize is more visas for their people to be able to enter and work in the UK. However, politics being what it is – with migration at the heart of the “take back control” narrative deployed by the Leave campaign – this is a step too far for the government.

And this is just a sample of the intense political quid pro quo that the UK is set to be exposed to when it leaves the Customs Union.

Yes there will be horse-trading on tariffs, quotas and sectors to be included/excluded from any deals. There are 30 stages to an EU negotiation, over a number of years, where this plays out. But this is what people kind of expect.

But would most people expect a deal to be linked in some way to whether a bid to host a sporting event was supported? Or would they expect the UK government to tack human rights or environmental concerns on to advanced trade negotiations? Or, with India, more visas to be granted? Probably not.

It is these types of deals that our political class is now going to grapple with. It will no longer be the EU Commission doing the heavy lifting. It will be our MPs and ministers deciding whether the prospect of a US trade deal, for example, is sufficient to open up UK food markets to US produce.

This is the unknown, but you can guarantee that those that are hostile to a deal will be the most vociferous. Those opposed to increased migration or lobbies, such as the National Farmers Union, are well resourced and set up to make their voice heard.

For politicians to hold their nerve and do the deals that are required to open up these markets, they’ll need some volume from the beneficiaries, too. That is where the business travel sector can step up. The more people travelling, the more this industry thrives and, whether it’s an airport expansion or trade deals, we need to ensure that politicians know when they give a little to gain more that we’ll trumpet their success.

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