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After the CPTPP we should aim for greater liberalisation of trade in services

4 min read

Earlier this Summer the UK acceded to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

This was a very significant moment, easing access for British companies to a market of more than half a billion people in 12 nations in Asia Pacific and the Americas.

Our relationship with ASEAN lies at the heart of the Indo-Pacific Tilt, underlining the strategic importance that we, as the UK, place upon this region. Our trading relationships are worth over 250 billion dollars and growing, driven by many UK businesses who have a major presence in the region operating across the full spectrum of services. This includes Mott MacDonald, which is playing a key role in upstream advisory and project engineering and delivery.

The CPTPP will give the region access to the UK’s world-class services sector. That’s why engagement between the UK and Indo-Pacific needs to cover the broadest spectrum of activity, including tapping into UK expertise and experience in delivering critical infrastructure. Delivering complex technical engineering advice, support and solutions is a field where the UK is recognised as a world leader.

For example, in Singapore Mott MacDonald is providing detailed design solutions to a wide range of projects, from transport to climate adaptation. Projects such as the North-South Corridor aim to dramatically improve connectivity between Singapore’s northern region and the city centre, and provide a green-corridor on the surface, improving air quality and the public realm. Such projects utilise UK skills, thinking and experience in decarbonisation and liveable cities; the complexity of this project, with tunnelling through congested urban areas, delivered several world engineering firsts, sees Mott MacDonald’s expertise playing a critical role.

The CPTPP will further boost the ability of UK technical and professional services consultancies to take part in, and support, these sorts of major projects across the Indo-Pacific. This builds on the significant contribution that UK firms have made to transport and social infrastructure in the region; the increasing importance of the energy transition in that part of the world also allows British companies to share their considerable experience from offshore wind in the UK and Europe. They are also deploying their specialist knowledge in areas such as tunnelling and bridges, and more widely, in major transport projects, to design and deliver transformative developments that will cut congestion, increase economic productivity, and protect the environment.

These are just some of the areas where our engineers and project managers are achieving commercial success for themselves and for UK plc, whilst also significantly helping local communities. We expect to see a lot more of these benefits for our services sector under trade agreements with countries, like those in the CPTPP, that share our approach to commerce and believe firmly in an ethical, open, trading culture based on the rule of law; UK-headquartered companies, effectively exporting British standards around the world.

And what else can we expect?

As the relationships exemplified by the CPTPP, and in other parts of the world, deepen, we should aim for even greater liberalisation of trade in services. For instance, key to sharing knowledge and expertise is allowing our world-renowned experts to travel easily between the countries where they work with prioritised entry via streamlined visa processes. Over time, this is an area where we should look for further progress.

In addition, the UK supports projects across the region through the British Investment Partnerships. BIP is the primary way in which the UK delivers its commitment to build strong and transparent economic partnerships, enabling high quality investment into developing countries. Through BIP we can increase UK-backed financing for infrastructure projects and provide scale, building on existing capital market partnerships and driving new ones. 

To maximise the effectiveness, impact and visibility of our work in this area, British International Investment (BII), MOBILIST, the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG) and UK Export Finance are all key components of the BIP toolkit.

These are areas for the future; we should not forget to celebrate the progress we have already made. Our engineering consultancy sector is a vibrant Great British success story, and through deals like the CPTPP it looks set to continue to grow in Asia and around the world.

Lord Sarfraz of Kensington is the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Singapore

James Harris is the Executive Chair of Mott MacDonald

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