My role as the UK’s Trade Commissioner for North America takes me all over the US and Canada, working to deepen and strengthen the economic relationship between our countries. But it is always a very special moment for me when I visit West Virginia, and a very personal one. For almost thirty years my grandfather lived just outside Berryville in Morgan County, where he bought a plot of land after he moved here from the UK in the 1960s. When he passed away, his ashes were scattered in the Shenandoah. I feel my family has roots here, and it’s great to be home!
West Virginia is, and has historically been, a significant trade and investment partner for the United Kingdom. Exports to the UK totalled over $300 million in 2017 making us your 10th largest export market. More importantly those exports, ranging from coal and petroleum gases to aluminium and resins and synthetic fibres supported 1,650 jobs here in the Mountain State.
We are also major investors in West Virginia and UK subsidiaries based here employ 4,300 people in companies like Randox Laboratories, EV Offshore and Aqua Running. Indeed, across the US over a million Americans go to work for UK companies every day, reflecting our status as the largest foreign direct investor in the US.
The economic relationship between the UK and the US is one that we have worked hard to develop over the decades, and now we plan to turbocharge it for the future. As we prepare to leave the EU we have been clear that we want to agree on an ambitious free trade agreement (FTA) as fast as possible. My Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and President Trump met just last weekend at the G7 summit to discuss how to take this forward, and at pace.
We have already started laying the groundwork for this deal. A few weeks ago the UK hosted the sixth meeting of the UK/US Trade and Investment Working Group which was set up by our governments in the summer of 2017. We also hosted the fourth Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) dialogue. The UK, like West Virginia, is committed to helping small businesses thrive. In 2016, 54,000 US companies traded with the UK, 90% of which were SMEs.
Our aim is really quite simple: we want to reduce barriers to trade between us for as many companies as possible. Last year we conducted a public consultation on what an FTA should cover. We announced the results of that a few weeks ago and are now taking those inputs into account as we prepare our negotiating positions.
Our US colleagues have also been making their own preparations. They published their objectives in February.
Understanding what businesses want is a core part of our agenda for me and my colleagues across the US. That’s why I am delighted to be attending the 83rd Annual West Virginia Chamber Business Meeting and Summit. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet key business and political leaders in order to set out our FTA ambitions and our plans to take them forward.
Beyond the FTA, we are also looking to explore other ways to free up trade and investment between us. At the G7 meeting the Prime Minister and the President also announced that they were setting up a “Special Relationship Economic Working Group” to develop “market-oriented principles for economic growth and increase bilateral cooperation on issues related to the modern 21st century economy”. Again, this needs to be informed by business so that we can be sure that our efforts are having maximum impact in terms of jobs and growth and our future prosperity.
Finally, we also want to explore the scope for more activity between us at a state and local level, complementing our national engagement. The bottom line is:we are ready to trade with West Virginia. This is a big and bold agenda, and one that we are very excited to be progressing and to have the chance to discuss during my visit.
The theme of this year’s annual meeting is “Celebrating Success,” and while there is much to celebrate, I believe that even bigger opportunities lay ahead of us. Here in West Virginia, and across the US, it’s time to take the relationship to the next level.