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How the next Government can help the UK tech sector thrive internationally

techUK is delighted to see that each of the key manifestos highlighted the importance of international trade in boosting the UK economy, improving productivity, creating jobs, and augmenting commercial and diplomatic relationships around the world. The UK's tech sector was valued at over $1 trillion in 2022 and is employing over 2 million people. This achievement is also due to the expansion and increasing significance of digital trade globally as well as policy choices that have supported trade in tech and digitally-enabled services.  

Back in 2021, techUK published a ‘Blueprint for Digital Trade’, outlining a set of recommendations on how to address the rise of digital protectionism by building comprehensive bilateral agreements that facilitate cross-border data flows, ensure high data protection standards, and support emerging digital technologies, while remaining a champion of digital trade in multilateral spaces like the World Trade Organisation. 

Last year, techUK published a new report, ‘Open and Secure, Charting a path for UK tech in a world of strategic competition’. This publication highlights how the challenges of a radically different geopolitical world have exposed the vulnerabilities of the technology sector, including disruptions to supply chains and the manufacturing of semiconductors. It also provides three core recommendations on areas where the UK can lead:UK can lead: 

  • continue to support multilateralism, taking a strategic approach to influence the development of international standards; 
  • promote the UK’s regulatory strengths and pro-innovation agenda internationally, identifying the issues where the UK can make a difference internationally, such as data flows and digital ethics; 
  • double down on UK strengths, propelling its strongest sectors forward and ensuring that it is supporting crucial strategic sectors by following three key pillars: enabling innovation, accelerating innovation, and applying innovation. 

The next Government has a great opportunity to build on UK strengths in driving forward a modern digital trade agenda in cooperation with our closest partners. This can be done by prioritising five initiatives. 

  1. Conduct a comprehensive and inclusive trade strategy consultation  
  2. Start dialogues on technology and trade with core partners and focus on maintaining adequacy with the EU 
  3. Prioritise digital economy agreements, sign the WTO JSI on e-commerce and join DEPA  
  4. Vastly improve export support services, including a new website 
  5. Incorporate EU trade policy into DBT and ensure cross-Whitehall coordination on trade policy. 

Conduct a comprehensive and inclusive trade strategy consultation 

While some trade policy decisions in the past few years have been beneficial to the UK tech sector – such as joining the CPTPP and concluding modern FTAs with Australia, New Zealand and Singapore – these have been carried out without proper consultation and strategy coordination. A comprehensive and inclusive trade strategy consultation would allow the next government to create a plan for trade policy, outlining offensive and defensive interests across markets of interest. 

Start dialogues on technology and trade with core partners and focus on maintaining adequacy with the EU 

Although providing little in terms of concrete results, the US-EU Trade and Technology Council has been an important forum  for discussing transatlantic cooperation in export controls, FDI screening, supply chain resilience, technology standards and global trade challenges.  

techUK would encourage the new government to look at starting similar dialogues with core trading partners, such as the EU, the US, Japan and India. 

Where bilateral science and technology partnerships already exist, the new government should prioritise operationalising them in consultation with industry stakeholders. Indeed, we run several bilateral tech forums, notably with India, Japan and APAC with sister organisations in market that would be delighted to engage on avenues for closer cooperation. 

Finally, given the June 2025 deadline for renewing European Commission’s adequacy decision with regards to the UK, we would encourage the next government to engage in good faith with the Commission and a wide range of industry and civil society stakeholders to make sure this vital instrument for UK-US data flows is maintained.  

Prioritise digital economy agreements, sign the WTO JSI on e-commerce and join DEPA 

The next Government should negotiate more Digital Economy Agreements with priority markets, building on the model of the UK-Singapore DEA. This type of agreements makes them adaptable to new technologies and new innovations and provide for regular stakeholder input in improving and modernising the trading relationship. 

At the WTO, the next UK government should prioritise the swift conclusion and signature of an ambitious plurilateral agreement on e-commerce. It should also continue to support the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions.  

Finally, as techUK has recommended as far back as 2020, the UK should seek to accede to the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA), which is a standalone agreement between New Zealand, Chile and Singapore, that sets new high quality, world leading standards in digital trade. One of the most unique aspects of DEPA is its innovative modular design, which trade policymakers in other countries can explore and build upon. 

Vastly improve export support services, including a new website 

techUK SMEs have expressed difficulties in navigating government websites to extract export support information. Information is not well sign-posted and is spread across a variety of different gov.uk webpages, including the Department for Business and Trade, great.gov.uk and HMRC. 

Whilst gov.uk is aiming to be a centralised tool, bringing all information into one place, in practice it creates a maze of links that do not provide traders with quick access to high-quality market intelligence and trade advice.  

great.gov.uk is a good starting point for traders, it could be improved by providing relevant technical content, FTA benefits, advice and guidance. gov.uk should only be utilised for signposting. These quick reviews would vastly improve SMEs interaction with government information and support for traders.  

Incorporate EU trade policy into DBT and ensure cross-Whitehall coordination on trade policy 

The next UK government should bring EU trade policy under the Department for Business and Trade to ensure full coordination of UK’s trade agenda and strategy. It should also seek to improve cross-Whitehall coordination on trade policy and make sure there is a strong voice for the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology in digital trade negotiations.  

Conclusion 

techUK believes the next government has a unique opportunity to define a comprehensive strategy for trade policy, streamline cross-Whitehall coordination on all trade matters, prioritise digital trade agreements with key partners and lead in multilateral fora. A rapprochement with the European Union as well as a stronger partnership with our main partners, such as US, Japan and India will place the UK at the core of international developments on trade and technology. These together coupled with better government communication with business will provide a solid international growth path for our technology sector, ensuring growth in exports and inward investment.

 

Channel website: http://www.techuk.org/

Original article link: https://www.techuk.org/resource/how-the-next-government-can-help-the-uk-tech-sector-thrive-internationally.html

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