As PM Theresa May thrashes her way via narrow House of Commons votes towards Brexit, behind the scenes a former NZ diplomat and academic is shaping the UK’s post-EU trade relationships. Crawford Falconer is chief adviser to the Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox in London and is playing a key role in shaping Britain’s new trade policy.
When he was appointed to the role last year he was tasked with developing and negotiating free trade agreements and market access deals with non-EU countries and shaping trade deals on specific sectors or products.
Falconer served in the trade policy engine room of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Wellington for many of the 25 years he spent in NZ’s public service and colleagues regarded him as the brains in the trade area, although he always operated in the lee of Tim Groser whose ebullience overshadowed Falconer’s quiet demeanour.
Falconer became NZ’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva. When it became clear he could rise no further in MFAT he became the head of the OECD’s trade policy division in Paris, where he was held in high regard.
At the end of his term in Paris he joined Lincoln University, which took advantage of his trade skills. And from rural Canterbury he was head-hunted to set up a new trade negotiating team in London, because most of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s expertise was long gone, made obsolete by membership of the EU which conducted all trade negotiations.
This year, as the UK government’s chief trade negotiation adviser, Falconer officially launched the cross-Whitehall International Trade Profession spanning 11 departments.
The Department for International Trade’s second permanent secretary brought together heads of profession that have been appointed in 10 other departments to work together on building civil service trade capability as Britain leaves the European Union.
DIT announced that the new profession would open up new roles and opportunities for those wishing to develop careers in international trade in the civil service. It will also provide “a world class training programme”.
“The recognition of international trade as one of government’s most important skills represents an important step forward in post-Brexit trade preparations,” said the department.
Falconer, head of the international trade profession, said:
“As head of profession, it is my job to ensure that UK trade negotiators are ready to strike trade deals around the world and deliver the benefits of free trade to all parts of the country.
“Through the profession we are ensuring government attracts the best and brightest talent by not only offering trade professionals a clear route into working on trade policy, exports and investment at the centre of government but also nurturing their ability for the future through access to world-class training.”
By establishing the International Trade Profession, we have embedded the development of trade negotiation capability at the heart of the government’s agenda and taken another important step in getting UK trade policy Brexit-ready.
The CBI director-general, Carolyn Fairbairn, welcomed the appointment of the 10 new heads of international trade profession. She said trade between the UK and its partners was “a fundamental catalyst to job creation, productivity and prosperity”
Back in Wellington, the influence Falconer wields is seen as the basis for believing NZ will be high on the list for a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the UK.