Neil Francis: Scotland’s values to be highlighted through international trade and investment

Neil Francis: Scotland’s values to be highlighted through international trade and investment

Neil Francis

Neil Francis, interim managing director of Scottish Enterprise, explains how Scotland’s commitment to inclusivity and net-zero can be shared via our trading relationships.

As March begins and with spring on the horizon, it has been a very busy start to the year for international trade and investment in Scotland.

Alongside continuing to support companies navigate the difficulties caused by COVID-19, a key priority for Scottish Enterprise since the turn of the year has been assisting firms adjust to the new EU trade arrangements following the end of the Brexit transition period.

Our interim Director of Global Trade, Suzanne Sosna, highlighted what support we’ve provided businesses and how Scottish Enterprise and its partners are doing all we can to ensure exporters are able to access the right advice when they need it.

Despite these twin-challenges, Scotland remains very much open for business and our Director of Global Investment, Mark Hallan, was delighted to welcome the arrival of Singapore fintech firm, TranSwap, to Scotland. The cross-border payment platform company will open a global R&D centre in Edinburgh, where they expect to create 54 jobs over the next three years.

Scottish Development International (SDI) colleagues based in Scotland, Singapore and Hong Kong worked with the company to support their arrival in Edinburgh and become the latest addition to our country’s incredibly exciting digital financial services sector. We are hopeful of announcing more global companies who have chosen to locate in Scotland with the support of SDI soon.

As the global economy starts to build back after the pandemic, the terms of international trade and investment will undoubtedly be different. We can expect to see countries both individually and collectively seek to address and balance innumerable challenges, which are complex and inter-related.

And top of this list is how to continue to achieve global growth through international trade and investment whilst reducing our global emissions.

Scots-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie once famously said:

“Do your duty and a little more and the future will take care of itself.”

This ethos can be applied to a country’s position on international trade and investment. Having an approach that’s transparent on what a country stands for in this pursuit is critical, and so it is for Scotland.

In September 2020, the First Minister made this clear:

“Trade is not separate from the values and the reputation that a country wants to project internationally. Trade, in many respects, should reflect our values. There should be ethics attached to any country’s trading profile.”

This commitment has now been translated into the Scottish Government’s Vision for Trade, published last month.

The blueprint sets out five, interdependent principles that will guide all future decisions on Scotland’s international trade:

  • Inclusive Growth
  • Wellbeing
  • Sustainability
  • Net Zero
  • Good Governance
  • Ensuring the creation of an appropriate trading environment that delivers Scotland’s well-being economy, is congruent to the United Nations Sustainable Goals and supports our country’s distinct interests, priorities, and place internationally must be what we strive for.

Adopting such an approach will not only have a profound impact on our economy, people and planet, but equally so on those we choose to trade with.

Such ambitions need to be delicately managed. International trade can consist of a myriad of highly complex issues. Careful and sensitive judgements will have to be made. One such action is our move away from providing trade support and promotion for purely fossil fuel activities.

We believe this is essential to increasing Scotland’s progress towards net zero targets and improving our international environmental impact. Crucially, however, this does not mean ending our support for energy companies: Scottish Enterprise will continue to assist businesses in this sector, helping them to transition and capitalise on alternative low-carbon, renewable energy and climate opportunities globally.

Our trade specialists based both here in Scotland and overseas will align their activities to meet these opportunities and the principles set out within the Vision for Trade.

Glasgow’s hosting of COP26 in November provides an ideal opportunity for Scotland to show the world that we are an open and welcoming nation and a leader on social justice, just transition and climate ambition through the application of the principles identified in the Vision for Trade.

Colleagues have also been working hard on our Race to Zero event, a virtual two-day conference on 9-10 March that marks a major stepping-stone in the run-up to COP26. The conference includes a series of free-to-attend online events discussing the opportunities for Scotland to create the world’s first net zero economy and open that to the global leaders attending COP26, while showcasing our country’s capital investment opportunities.

Developing, supporting and stimulating low-carbon economic projects is a major priority for Scottish Enterprise. It’s worth remembering that Scotland has the potential to be a world-leader in the renewables industry: we have 25% of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal resource and approximately 60% of the UK’s onshore wind capacity.

Scotland’s renewable energy resources offer big opportunities for international investors, particularly in the further expansion of offshore wind and the enormous potential for growth in hydrogen, carbon capture, energy storage.

In addition, the decarbonisation of heat and transport also present significant opportunities for investment, innovation and manufacturing in Scotland, and this will be a key component of our increased focus on low-carbon opportunities. The global market for low-carbon heat technologies is predicted to grow to £308 billion by 2050, so it’s imperative that Scotland is positioned internationally to take advantage of future opportunities that will arise

That’s why we are looking forward to the publication shortly of the Scottish Government’s global Capital Investment Plan, the third pillar of its international trade and investment agenda.

This aligns with the need to mobilise investment as part of our post-COVID recovery, and to engage in private sector partnership. The report will also signal to the market Scotland’s commitment to an open/transparent investment environment, aligned with our values, principles and our transition to net zero.

So, as 2021 progresses and the global economy returns to growth mode, Scotland will be able to clearly articulate what it stands for and how it will contribute to, and benefit from, this in a fair, inclusive and sustainable way.

Scottish Enterprise, along with our partners, will continue to highlight the importance of international trade and investment to Scotland’s economic recovery and do everything we can to continue to support our companies.

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