LONDON: Skeptics have long argued that the UK is past its prime and is negotiating largely on old glories.
They point to the country’s average ranking in the education scores of the OECD’s International Pupil Assessment Program and the fact that only one UK company, HSBC, is in the top 50 public companies in the world, compared to four in Germany.
They point to the likelihood that Brexit will end up eroding, rather than strengthening, Britain’s global position.
But I do not agree with this judgment. After all, the UK is one of the few countries to have produced an effective COVID-19 vaccine in record time.
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It remains at the forefront of the global transition to green energy and was the first major economy to enact legislation requiring it to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.
Additionally, the UK retains its traditional strengths in language, location and time zone, strong universities and deep financial markets, and it remains a standard-bearer for the rule of law.
As the UK hosts the G7 summit in Cornwall, political and business leaders will want to see how well aligned the country is on the three issues that collectively will disrupt global trade and catalyze economic growth in the decades to come. coming: engagement with China, technology innovation and clean energy.
IMPROVE TRADE WITH CHINA
When it comes to China, Britain has a considerable margin to increase bilateral trade. British exports to China in 2019 were worth £ 30.7 billion ($ 43.5 billion), just over a third of Germany’s total of $ 110 billion.
In fact, 2020 was the fifth year in a row that China was Germany’s biggest trading partner.
Britain therefore urgently needs to expand its trade and investment ties with China, which is expected to dominate the global economy.
China is already the largest trading partner and foreign direct investor for many developed and developing countries, and it is now the largest lender to emerging market economies – larger than the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Club. of Paris of sovereign creditors.
Human rights concerns and ideological differences pose an ethical challenge to Britain when dealing with China. But moving away from engagement with Chinese politicians would limit the UK’s ability to influence the Beijing regime and risk pushing back the UK economy.
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STRENGTHEN TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION
In terms of technology, Britain’s role in the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine underscores its strengths in medical science innovation – as evidenced by a thriving biotechnology and life sciences sector .
And yet the UK has yet to develop a tech company of global stature and renown, and recent stock market activity has sent mixed messages to investors.
The initial public offerings of food delivery company Deliveroo and semiconductor technology company Alphawave have been challenged. Both companies’ share prices fell sharply on their first day of listing and remained below their introductory price weeks later.
But the UK is well positioned to benefit from investments and advancements in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, which will undoubtedly transform education and healthcare in the years to come.
In addition, the country has real opportunities to help its allies close technology gaps – especially in semiconductors, where America’s share of global production has fallen from 37% in 1990 to just 12% today. ‘hui.
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To realize its potential as a science superpower, the UK needs a tech hub that can compete with Silicon Valley in its dynamism. This will require the aggressive and deliberate building of an ecosystem of talent and collaboration between data science, technology and public policy.
For example, the Oxford-Cambridge arc already supports two million jobs and adds £ 110 billion to the UK economy each year.
But to take it to the next level, this region needs to become a dynamic environment for innovation and be much more visible to major global investors. This is particularly important given that global foreign direct investment has fallen for three consecutive years (2016 to 2018) before even dropping 42% in 2020.
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A MAJOR ROLE IN CLIMATE CHANGE
On energy, the UK has been a world leader in mitigating climate risks through carbon sequestration and capture, and setting a target of zero net greenhouse gas emissions.
And he has an important opportunity to strengthen his credentials as a leader in the environment and green energy when he hosts the UN climate summit COP26 this fall.
Above all, the UK has a chance to change the narrative so that the green transition is not just about limiting the economic downside, but also about maximizing the benefits.
In particular, government support for larger-scale investments in solar, wind, hydrogen, biofuels, hydropower, geothermal power, Generation IV nuclear reactors and new battery technologies would produce huge returns.
If Britain wants to become a leader in energy transition, new technologies and engagement with China, it must overcome several obstacles.
Importantly, the currently fragmented “Global Britain” agenda needs to reflect much closer cooperation between the public and private sectors, and become clearer on how to track execution and measure success.
The UK has a strong hand to play. But playing well will require greater political vision.
British leaders should implement a grand project that creates a long-term legacy – in the spirit of the Manhattan Project during WWII to develop the first nuclear weapons, or the US government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which enabled the further development of Silicon Valley.
As the world emerges from the pandemic, the UK, as the host of two major international summits this year, will find itself in the global spotlight. It must capitalize on this unique opportunity and seek to reposition itself for the 21st century.
(As climate change intensifies, will we see more activists and communities seeking legal remedies around the world? Read up on The Climate Conversations.)
Dambisa Moyo, international economist, is the author of four New York Times best-selling books, including Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth – and How to Fix It.