UK seeks bigger role in Asian growth story

The United Kingdom is gearing up for greater economic collaboration with Asean, hoping to offset the weakness in its own economy and that of Europe.

China, India and Asean are all targets of the UK business sector, according to Wick Baird, chief executive of UK Trade Investment (UKTI) in London. In January, UKTI will have offices in all 10 Asean countries when Cambodia becomes the latest host to the trade promotion body.

British ambassadors from all Asean capitals gathered in Singapore last week to readjust their strategies to push for greater investment and higher trade profiles, added Mark Kent, the UK ambassador to Bangkok.

“We will focus on supporting services and technology-related business interactions with Asean and continue trade and investment facilitation,” said Mr Kent.

The British High Commissioner to Brunei, Rob Fenn, also highlighted the importance of Asean and its member states to the UK in his blog.

With the recent handover of the Asean chairmanship from Cambodia to Brunei, Mr Fenn said the UK was fascinated by Asean economic growth and waned to strengthen relations with its member states.

UK dignitaries including Foreign Secretary William Hague toured some capitals including Bangkok and Vientiane at the time of the recent Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Laos. Hugo Swire, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister, will visit Bandar Seri Begawan next month, following up on a trip Mr Hague made to Brunei in April.

The fact that Mr Hague has reopened the British Embassy in Vientiane was also a show of UK commitment in the region.

Mr Fenn wrote in his blog that 2013 would be a good year for the UK as Asean was steadily progressing toward the Asean Economic Community, which eventually would improve trade with the UK too.

“Asean’s highly educated and increasingly self-confident population will want more of the things that the UK’s innovative economy produces,” he wrote. “And Asean’s member states will see that the UK rejoices in their success — the true test of friendship.”

In UK, Asean has been creating some buzz among the business sector, prompting Asia House to plan an Asean Week to be staged in the middle of next year in London.

The UKTI and the UK Asean-Business Council have already partnered with the British Chambers of Commerce in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia to introduce a new service for British SME startups in these countries.

The UKABC serves UK businesses that are looking for opportunities or are already active in the region. Together with the UKTI network of overseas offices, they hope to promote business opportunities in Asean to UK companies, as well as provide them with informative and practical market intelligence.

The UKABC also works to put Asean decision-makers in touch with UK companies to maximise business opportunities, and to represent UK business’ views in contacts with Asean and its member states.

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Writer: Achara Ashayagachat