Clegg eyes new Latin American links
Nick Clegg heads a business delegation to Colombia and Mexico today in a bid to forge stronger trade links with the two countries, after saying the UK "took its eye off the Latin American ball".
The Deputy Prime Minister will be joined by Conservative Investment Minister Lord Livingston and Mexico Trade Envoy Lib Dem peer Baroness Bonham-Carter, as well as more than 40 UK business leaders, seeking to tap into the investment potential of the two emerging economies.
Mr Clegg said that Britain's presence in Colombia and Mexico had been "too small, too reticent and too modest for far too long".
Speaking ahead of his visit, he said: "The UK took its eye off the Latin American ball, and as a result we've fallen behind many of our other European competitors."
Mr Clegg will meet with Mexico's reforming President, Peña Nieto, for the second time to reiterate the UK's commitment to strengthening its bilateral trade relations, building on his previous visit in March 2011 and President Peña Nieto's visit to the UK in June 2013. Mr Clegg is set to announce a new target to double the UK's market share in Mexico to 1.5% by 2020.
He will also be the most senior British Government Minister to visit Colombia since 1992. He and President Juan Manuel Santos are set to discuss the terms of a new trade and investment target for Colombia, worth £4 billion by 2020.
HSBC bank, engine manufacturers Rolls Royce, commercial banknote printer De La Rue, oil and energy firm Shell, and designer architects Zaha Hadid are among the business names accompanying Mr Clegg on his trip.
"The global influence of Colombia and Mexico, both politically and economically, is increasing at an incredible rate. It is by forging greater ties with countries like these that we can rebuild our economy; find new export markets for British businesses, identify new opportunities, and sign new contracts," Mr Clegg said.
"Already we are major players as the second largest investor in Colombia and the fifth largest in Mexico. We've seen a 126% increase in the export relationship with Colombia between 2009-12, and a 9% increase in UK to Mexico exports in the last year alone.
"Yet despite all that progress, the commercial and trading relationship between our nations is still a fraction of what it could be. That's why I'm so pleased to spearhead on behalf of the British Government, a major delegation - the first of its kind to Colombia - from the UK from a huge diversity of sectors. This is a real message of intent."
In what may have been a passing reference to Prime Minister David Cameron's two trade visits to China, he added: "It's been fashionable for a long time to talk about growth of major economies in Asia, but actually so much of new growth in the world economy will be in Latin America, in open, reforming economies such as Mexico and Colombia.
"Delegations and visits like this are important to the success of the relationship between Britain, Colombia and Mexico, and the long-term economic wellbeing to the UK for many years ahead."
Mr Clegg's return trip to Mexico, where he will be opening a new British Business Centre in the capital, is expected to set the tone for 2015, the Year of the UK in Mexico and Year of Mexico in the UK. The UK, which is Mexico's fifth largest investor, says it is committed to doubling its trade with Mexico to £4.2 billion by the end of 2015.
Trade and Investment Minister Lord Livingston said: "More and more British companies are exporting to Colombia and Mexico. UK exports of goods to Mexico increased by over 60% since 2009 and the export of services to Colombia has almost tripled since 2009.
"However, much more needs to be done to ensure UK companies can benefit from the huge opportunities these markets offer, particularly in the energy, infrastructure and education sectors. That is why we are taking one of the largest UK trade delegations so far to Mexico and Colombia."
Mexico makes up one of the so-called MINT countries, including Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey - a recent acronym coined by former Goldman Sachs Asset Management chairman Jim O'Neill, who also came up with BRIC, the shorthand for Brazil, Russia, India and China.