The UK shifts its foreign focus

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) announced this week a strategic shift in their overseas networks which will extend the UK’s reach for the 21st century.

Under the new proposals the FCO are planning to open five new embassies: El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan and South Sudan, and will look to Madagascar and Somalia when the local political and security situation improves.

The FCO will also expand it’s presence in China and India by increasing staff numbers by 50 and 30, respectively.

More importantly, there will be new offices opened in provincial cities in India and China and in some of the world’s fastest growing economies such as Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Indonesia.

This very much fits in with both the economic and security priorities the UK, and indeed the rest of the world, faces.

The coalition government in the UK sees the private sector as the source of economic growth with an export-led recovery being the driver. With a larger emphasis on the emerging markets of Latin America, China and India, trade routes will certainly be enhanced and encouraged.

There are clear benefits to domestic security in having a presence in countries such as Kyrgyzstan, South Sudan and Somalia. A more stable Kyrgyzstan will safeguard collaborative relationships with Asia as well as Afghanistan while being an influence in South Sudan and Somalia will pay dividends for security.

The proposals also highlight a wider trend in developed countries’ foreign policy. David Cameron has already visited the Middle East with a team of British businessmen and indicated a closer tie with Turkey would benefit trade further. President Obama has also been on tours to China and Indonesia and has stressed the importance that trade with India can boost American jobs.

In the post-recession world, developed countries have realised that expanding the portfolio of trade partners can decrease risk and maintain stability whilst opening key trade benefits. The fastest growing economies in the world such as China, India and Brazil were all relatively unaffected by the recession and are certainly open for business – business that will be mutually beneficial.

Furthermore, the proposals are to be implemented during a period of cut backs and efficiency savings. What is interesting is that the UK will be reining in spending on European ‘subordinate’ posts in offices that lie outside of capitals in order to open elsewhere. A shift away from Europe and towards high growth emerging markets could be extremely lucrative.

The countries selected to house new British embassies do not initially leap out as places to do business. However, they are all intrinsically related to the region in which it is situated and it is here that the UK will benefit both economically and for security.

A shift of focus was very much needed. Big, multinational firms are shifting towards high growth countries and away from traditional economies. With this brings new challenges and the UK’s focus should be no different.

It perhaps says more about how we should view the UK. It is no longer the superpower it once was and so forging new national relationships through diplomacy is the only way it can progress.

The FCO certainly seem to have subscribed to this thinking.

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