Hague switches focus of UK foreign policy to trade

British Foreign Secretary William Hague promised today to inject a "new commercialism" into Britain's foreign policy.

Speaking in Japan, he said the British Foreign Office must concentrate more on winning trade and investment deals to secure the economic recovery at home.

Delivering the second of four keynote speeches setting out the framework of the new government's foreign policy, he said economic objectives would be a "central aspect" of the UK's engagement with other countries.

"We will work in a targeted and systematic fashion to secure the UK's economic recovery, promote open markets and improved financial regulation and to open the way to greater access for British companies in new markets worldwide," he said.

"To do this, we will inject a new commercialism into the work of our Foreign Office and into the definition of our country's international objectives, ensuring that we develop the strong political relationships which will help British business thrive.

"We will pursue this approach across the whole of government, not just the Foreign Office, so that this new focus on economic opportunity runs through the veins of our entire administration."

Mr Hague moved on to Tokyo from China at the start of a series of overseas missions that will see ministers "fan out across the world" to build ties with emerging economic powers.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who declared yesterday his administration would be "messianic" in chasing business abroad, is to lead a delegation of business leaders to India shortly.

Mr Hague will take his message to the Gulf later this week and Business Secretary Vince Cable is to head to Brazil as part of efforts to "redouble" the pro-trade mission.

In a signal of the new priority, the Foreign Secretary also wrote to all Foreign Office staff at home and abroad instructing them to "miss no opportunity" to champion the British economy.

He admitted it was a "tall order" in the light of Whitehall spending cuts - with Mr Cameron recently warning that plush ambassadorial residences were on the line without renewed efforts.

But he told them they should act as the "eyes, ears and advocates" not just of the government but of British business and the economic recovery as a whole.

Official figures released yesterday showed a fall in the number of foreign investment projects in the UK last year - although the number of jobs created by them rose by 20%.

More than a third of inward investment projects were made by US firms and the British government is keen to tap better into fast-growing economies elsewhere in the world.

Mr Hague said the push for trade and investment would go hand in hand with efforts to revive progress towards a world trade deal and reform international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund.

In his letter, Mr Hague told staff to ensure ministers were "briefed to lobby for British business in every foreign contact they have", to "stave off protectionism" and to "miss no opportunity to champion Britain's economic reputation and to make clear it is a great place to invest".

"It is a tall order. But you have the whole British Government behind you."

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