Diplomats are business, trade and climate champions too
21 December 2020: The key is responsible growth, insists Kenan Poleo, HM Deputy Trade Commissioner for Europe and Counsellor International Trade Germany at the Department for International Trade in Berlin.
Kenan Poleo’s role revolves around supporting businesses – and so did his previous roles at Innovate UK and at the UK Science and Innovation Network Europe. He is focused on both supporting foreign businesses investing in the UK, and UK businesses exporting or expanding overseas.
His team at the Department for International Trade (DIT) in Berlin nurtures business growth in what he refers to as the ‘Eurovision’ region of western and central Europe. It comprises around 44 markets – a huge number by anyone’s reckoning.
“It is a diverse portfolio. We look after countries like Germany and France, but we also have the western Balkans, such as Serbia and North Macedonia, and we have the European Economic Area countries as well as Israel. Our team knows how to drive growth and prosperity,” says Poleo.
Pandemic, and the changing political and trading European landscape that will emerge at the end of 2020, forces some re-reckoning but growth, recovery and prosperity are still the holy grails. “We have been forced to reconsider how we can nurture growth in response to those key issues,” he says. “We are particularly focused on responsible growth and not to make the mistakes of the past.”
He talks in terms of responding to demand from consumers for socially responsible products and services, and for them to be green and clean. “And rightly so,” he adds. “Growing a green economy is completely a focus for us as a government.”
The challenges of 2020 have accelerated the use of technology, points out Poleo, and his organisation is no exception. “We have two campaigns around technology, officially termed ‘Technology’ and ‘Clean Growth’. One relates to the opportunities presented by digital technology and the other to green growth,” he says. “What this means is sustained engagement to present the UK’s core messages. It means ensuring we are able to communicate the opportunities and the potential strengths that the UK has in these areas.”
Technology and clean growth cut across numerous sectors including finance, chemicals and transportation, to name just a few. “We want to make sure we don’t undertake ad hoc piecemeal intervention. We want structured engagement,” says Poleo. “One of the key things that will be critical going forward is the role of regulation – which means us as commercial attaches having conversations with regulators about which international frameworks are needed to encourage open markets and socially responsible growth.”
So, what is the role for diplomacy in the green recovery agenda? “We believe in evidence-based policy-making and evidence-based decision-making,” says Poleo. “We structure our policies around the evidence.” He continues, referring to the UK Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution: “We need to quantify both the opportunities and quantify the barriers, and then we need to open up markets.”
Do traditional growth models – export growth, foreign direct investment (FDI), cross-border partnerships, and so on – still stand after this turbulent economic period? “The reality is that export and FDI are still the two fundamental pillars of economic growth,” says Poleo. “If we don’t have FDI into the UK, we really can’t capitalise on our strengths. The benefit is mutual for both the foreign investor and the UK economy. The UK remains one of the leading destinations for FDI and we are still seeing significant investment despite the pandemic. But there is no getting away from the fact that FDI has reduced significantly globally during 2020 but our core focus areas for FDI centre around opportunities which are long-term, resilient and necessary.”
The same is true of export growth, he says. It is still a key pillar of expansion for an innovation-led economy, but pandemic and Brexit are there in the mix. It has not been an easy year for anyone needing to show growth.
But Poleo remains undaunted. “The UK Government is a champion of international trade in a rules-based economy,” he says. “We need to keep the flow of goods going. What does government action mean for security of supply? We have been discussing that. How does the UK support its own supply chains better without spooking business? Perhaps the answer to resilience lies in diversification.”
Then Poleo turns to growing the UK’s knowledge base, especially in relation to science. “There are opportunities for business here too,” says Poleo. “Commercialising knowledge creates a solid and strong eco-system. We have a magnificent infrastructure for science in the UK.”
He concedes that technology cannot provide all the answers to creating a buoyant and sustainable economy. “Ultimately it is about behaviours,” he says. “But despite the pandemic, there is so much opportunity for growth and we are working hard to present them.”
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