Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the UK’s leading business organisation, was speaking at Exhibition Centre Liverpool at the launch of the third International Business Festival. Tony McDonough reports
US President Donald Trump’s approach to global trade is “misguided and dangerous” and could push the world back two decades, the head of the CBI said in Liverpool on Tuesday.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the UK’s leading business organisation, was speaking at Exhibition Centre Liverpool at the launch of the third International Business Festival.
Addressing an audience of business leaders, some from as far afield as China, Ms Fairbairn said Mr Trump’s policy of imposing new trade tariffs with the EU and other trading nations and blocs was a retrograde step.
She said the CBI would making the case against a reversal of free trade policies around the world.
“I think this is a potentially dangerous time for global trade – we have had the core belief in the value of free trade and now we suddenly have the risk of a reversal of that… it could set as back as much as two decades,” Ms Fairbairn added.
She also issued a direct plea to Government to ensure the UK would still enjoy “frictionless” trade with the EU following Brexit.
The festival, which follows those of 2014 and 2016, will run until June 28 and will welcome more than 27,000 people and 150 international delegations from markets including the US, China and India.
It has set a target of generating £400m of new business for UK firms. A combined total of £600m was generated from 2014 and 2016 so this would take it past the £1bn barrier.
Max Steinberg, chair of the festival and chief executive of Liverpool Vision, addressed the audience to officially open the festival.
Before introducing a video message from Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Steinberg said: “Businesses – large and small – are responsible for great things. They’re improving quality of life, providing opportunities for development and solving some of the big challenges facing the world.
“We are confident that the festival will be a celebration of the very best of business, bringing together innovators and industry leaders from around the world to share knowledge and build the connections which ultimately turn into new deals.”
Ms Fairbairn echoed Mr Steinberg’s upbeat message and said the festival offered a huge opportunity for firms in Merseyside and across the UK to significantly grow their trade with the rest of the world.
And she added it was fitting that the festival should be held in Liverpool. She explained: “Liverpool was once home to 10% of the world’s trade and this city was built on exports.
“However, the UK now buys more from the rest of the world than it sells. Around 12-15% of firms here trade globally. Increasing our exports is not the answer to all of our issues but it is the answer to quite a lot of our issues.
“We need to lift our productivity and we know the most productive firms are the ones that trade in international markets.”
Ms Fairbairn said the push for exports “begins at home” and she said the UK’s current infrastructure, particularly the rail network, was “not good enough” and needed to be upgraded “urgently”. She added: “The basis of success are having enough skilled people, tax and regulation policies and bring in investment and infrastructure.
“We have seen in the North in recent weeks how the disruption on the railways has adversely affected business and peoples’ lives.”
She also backed the third runway at Heathrow, a £16bn project that offers significant knock-on effects for the UK regions and has strong support her in Merseyside. She said just one new air route to China out of Manchester had proved a huge success.
“This year alone China will be building seven new airports… this is why we need the third runway at Heathrow.”