Speech: Liam Fox's speech at Deutscher Exporttag
A robust and recurrent theme from history is that free and open international trade has proven itself to be an eliminator of poverty, a catalyst of freedom and a driver of prosperity.
Yet all too often, trade is reduced to sets of dry statistics. Exports and imports are viewed as abstractions, economic concepts with little bearing on everyday life.
Yet we know that nothing could be further from the truth.
Fundamentally, free trade is a right. Every person should be free to sell their goods, services or labour to the highest bidder, and to buy from whomever they choose.
This principal allows the benefits of trade to spread to every level of society.
The writings of my fellow Scotsman Adam Smith are as valid today as they were in 1776.
Trade creates jobs. It supports families. It raises living standards and lowers prices. It generates vast revenues in taxation, indirectly funding roads, schools and hospitals.
Above all, trade has been the greatest liberator of the world’s poor, harnessing the forces of globalisation to spread prosperity and lift millions from poverty.
In 1993, around 45% of India’s population sat below the poverty line; by 2011 it was 22%.
It is no coincidence that in the intervening period India embraced the opportunities of globalisation and began to liberalise its economy.
Truly, there is no greater emancipator than trade.
Britain and Germany are 2 of the world’s greatest proponents of free trade. We have seen, at home and abroad, the benefits that trade engenders.
Together, our task must be to encourage and stimulate global trade, ensuring growth in the world economy and attempting to spread prosperity as wide as possible.
Yet we face great challenges.
Across the world, there has been a disquieting slowdown in the growth of international trade.
Since 2012, trade has been growing at less than half the average rate of the preceding 30 years.
143 countries have fallen victim to this trend, including all of the world’s biggest economies.
There is always a temptation in such testing times to pull up the drawbridge.
Indeed, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has expressed concern that, in recent years, non-tariff trade barriers have been allowed to creep up.
Britain and Germany, along with our partners in the WTO, G7 and G20, must stand firm against such protectionist tendencies.
We must continue to work together to champion free trade, and deliver for the global economy.
Whilst Britain remains in the EU, we will continue to stand alongside Germany in making the arguments for free and open trade.
Chancellor Merkel has long been a champion of international trade deals, such as the one between the EU and Japan.
Her stance has been much admired in the UK, and we know that other agreements such as Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) and the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) remain immensely valuable.
The United Kingdom will continue to support such international free trade deals as long as they remain on the table.
After all, Britain’s aim is not to erase the achievements of our last four decades within the EU, nor to advance any kind of ‘de-globalisation’. Rather, we intend to be open for business, for we in Britain hold our commercial relationship with Germany particularly dear.
I am confident that the businesses and consumers in Germany, just like their counterparts in the UK, will want our trading relationship to remain strong and steadfast.
Last year Germany received 10% of the UK’s total exports – 64 billion Euros; German exports to the UK are worth some 50 billion more than that.
It is here, in and around Frankfurt, where these links are particularly visible: Lloyds, RBS and Barclays have a strong presence in the city, Rolls-Royce’s production facilities are in Oberursel.
Some 289 British companies are directly invested in Hesse, employing 57,000 people and generating an annual turnover of €21.8 billion.
Such close commercial ties are too precious to jeopardise.
As a founding member of the WTO, Britain will continue to use that platform to advocate free and open trade.
As we do this, the watch words will be co-operation and continuity.
For the UK, trade is one of our most important links with the rest of Europe, and stability will be of the utmost importance for business, and mutually beneficial for the UK and the EU.
The United Kingdom is open for business as never before.
We will champion the cause of open and free trade, and our shared values, and we will work with each and every partner, across Europe and the world, to ensure that the riches of international trade spread to every corner of the globe.
Germany and Britain enjoy one of the world’s strongest and most open trading partnerships, a friendship built upon trade and mutual prosperity that we both cherish.
Together, we can act as a global catalyst for further trade liberalisation.
When we leave the EU, Germany will be Britain’s biggest trading partner in the Union, and our close economic and commercial ties will remain.
Together, we have the economic and political influence to push this agenda forwards, and we must use our mutual strength to do so.
Following the vote of the British people in the referendum of 23 June, the Prime Minister has confirmed that we will trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017.
This is the agreed mechanism under EU Treaty law whereby any member has the right to leave, as part of an arrangement entered into voluntarily by all 28 Member States.
Membership is an act of political choice, which any Member State can legally reverse.
It is the British government’s intention to remain close to our European partners, building upon the best aspects of our political and economic relationship
We must strive to remove as many impediments to global trade and investment as possible, creating the best business environment in both our countries and beyond to maximise prosperity.
The EU’s own trade policy website states that “over the next 10 to 15 years, 90% of world demand will be generated outside Europe”.
Currently, the EU operates on zero tariffs for goods and a relatively open market for services.
At a time of economic challenge, we must never succumb to the temptation to put up barriers, rather than tearing them down.
We must ensure that businesses can continue to operate as freely as possible, and are able to access new markets across the globe.
We know that free trade can be a great social leveller, allowing people from all levels of society to access more goods at better prices.
Why would we put any of that at risk?
We want the fruits of an open and free trading environment to be available to as many European citizens as possible – as our Prime Minister rightly says; ‘building an economy that works for everyone’.
We in Britain want an open and economically successful EU as a strong partner for the UK.
The relationship between Germany and the UK will be a key link in that partnership.
If we remember at all times that it is the wellbeing of the people we represent, their prosperity and safety that is our guiding star, then we will not go wrong.