No bones were spared at the White Hart Hotel, Salisbury, on July 9 when Sir Martin Donnelly former Permanent Secretary of the Department for International Trade gave a stirring speech and humorous anecdotes on what Brexit means for British jobs, trade and competitiveness over the next decade. “Don’t worry about trade: focus on competitive. Most trade barriers are caused by regulation not by tariffs,” a packed audience of business owners and friends of Arundells, was told.

He compared the world of today to the world in the late 90s with an off-the-record story about of how one Canadian negotiator nearly got sacked when the deal negotiated meant Canada ended up with more bone than beef. From the late 90s, countries began to realise trade mattered: for the environment, for labour standards and also for employment rights.

Ever since the mid-90s, trade has just become much more politicised, he said. Since the 2000s, governments claimed trade is a technocratic thing: “leave us to sort it out and we’ll be better off – and politics moving in a different direction. “That trend has continued for two decades, and it’s not going away anytime soon,” he added. He explained that US, Europe and China no longer see eye-to-eye on trade, and how the original WTO framework is now outdated. “The postwar multi-lateral trading framework is not seen as quite so relevant any more by the United States, or perhaps in a different way by China and you can’t talk about trade in the world we now live in without talking about China.”

“Educated economy”

“China is rapidly becoming an educated economy, as well as one with infrastructure, and you cannot disengage from China – and I think this is the challenge of the next 10 years for Britain and for every other developed country and for all the developing world as well. ”

“I heard a former prime minster a couple of weeks ago, say that China grows by an economy the size of Greece every three weeks.”

Speaking about US President Trump, Sir Martin had little to offer, but what he did say was that Trump was a symptom of much wider political forces not going away soon. “One American analyst said to me: ’you have to understand President Trump won that election by paying fewer dollars per vote than any other presidential candidate in election history’. I think there is some truth in this.”

Sir Martin ended by cheering everybody with his thoughts on the challenges a post-Brexit Britain faces with reasonably paid jobs now having to compete with artificial intelligence. “We are tackling this loss of trust, this splintering of the global trading system at the same time as we are going through with what is going to be the most massive technological change to how we live, not just how to do business, during the next 10 to 15 years.”

“Just to take one example: in the next 10 years, we will have most of the public and commercial transport on our roads essentially run by algorithms, but that will take away a massive number of relatively reasonably paid jobs which do not require a huge skill set, and the challenge is: how do you re-train people? Not everybody can move into digital work and not everybody can move physically where different sorts of labour are going to be required.”

The event was organised by Arundells, the Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, visit www.arundells.org

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