4 October 2017
Below is a transcript of the speech by The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, at the Launch of the Institute for Free Trade.
Welcome to the Foreign Office. And as you look around at the magnificent surroundings - frankly Trump-like bling - of my office you ask yourself how did the Victorians manage to afford such stupendous municipal surroundings? And the answer is, as Daniel [Hannan] has said, it was not because they found gold or oil under the streets of London, it was because they made sure that this incredible city continued to be the greatest trading entrepôt on earth.
And actually Daniel, you erred in one thing: our roots as a great free trading country go back far before Smith and Ricardo. If you look at history, London overtook Paris in 1800 to become the biggest city on earth since imperial Rome. But our campaign as a free trading nation you could perhaps date back to 1583, when queen Elizabeth sent the first ever trade envoy, a man called Ralph Fitch, from Derby… she sent him to the emperor of China. And Fitch carried with him a very famous letter in which our great Queen Elizabeth said she wanted England and China to have the joy and benefit which consisted in the transporting outwards of such things whereof we have plenty, and in bringing in such things as we have need of. That sums it up, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, Fitch was arrested in Goa for something or other. Not the sort of thing likely to happy to any of Liam [Fox]’s trade envoys today. He [Fitch] never made it to China but he did make it to Burma and various other places. And he carried with him that doctrine, that gospel, and that is the process which has continued today, driving down prices, unleashing competition, as Daniel has well argued, rewarding the nation and enterprise.
And in our own time, free trade continues to unleash its magic, lifting billions out of poverty around the world. In 1990, 37 percent of the world lived in absolute poverty, and that’s down to just 10 percent today. And yet, in spite of all its manifest virtues and benefits, this benign process has its enemies and its detractors. You’ve rightly mentioned the sad business about Boeing today: the politicians and bureaucrats who mystifyingly continue to insist on tariff and non-tariff barriers. And we must face the reality that the only reason it makes sense today to have this new Institute for Free Trade is that it’s only now, after 44 years, that we are finally taking back control of our tariff schedules in Geneva. It is only now that we are able to do free trade deals with the distinguished ambassadors who have gathered here today. It is only now that the UK is able to resume its historic function as the world’s leading campaigner and agitator for free trade.
When you consider our history, when you consider what we’ve done in the past, when you consider that we are already adept, not just in transporting things whereof other people have need, but also things whereof, quite frankly, they already have plenty; when you consider that we sell sand to Saudi Arabia, and cake to France, and TV antennas to South Korea, and bicycles made in London to Holland, and boomerangs to Australia (of the non-returning variety); and when you consider that we have already been sufficiently ingenious as to export Nigel Farage to America, you can imagine what our brilliant companies, aided and assisted by the wonderful, new Department for International Trade, are going to be able to do when they are finally - and let’s hope the date is soon upon us, with not too long a transition period - when they are finally unbound, unshackled, unleashed from the coils and toils of the Common Commercial Policy. We have an extraordinary future ahead of us. And I declare this crucial, crucial Institute for Free Trade launched. Thank you very much.
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