UK aims to tear down digital trade barriers as London Tech Week gets under way

Surging investment in Britain as London seeks to cement status as Europe’s tech capital

The UK tech sector raised £13.5 billion in the first six months of 2021, triple the amount for the same period last year. Photo: Yuichiro Chino
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The UK must break down "digital barriers" to open up new opportunities for businesses and consumers, the new International Trade Secretary will say on Monday.

In her first speech since her Cabinet appointment in Boris Johnson's reshuffle last week, Anne-Marie Trevelyan will address industry leaders at the start of London Tech Week.

Digital trade – digitally-enabled transactions in goods and services – is vital for the UK, contributing £150 billion to the economy in 2019 and employing about 5 per cent of the workforce.

Smoothing international commerce in digital products has been built into trade talks since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016.

The UK agreed on details of digital free trade as part of a pact with Japan in October 2020 and is in talks with Singapore on another agreement.

Ms Trevelyan's department will publish a five-point plan aimed at establishing a "free and fair digital trade landscape" to help UK businesses and consumers.

The plan, the Department for International Trade said, would "reduce costs for British businesses, cut red tape and shore up data protection".

'Setting a new gold standard for digital trade'

"All of us depend on digital trade, yet British businesses face digital barriers in countries who take a protectionist approach," Ms Trevelyan said.

"I want the UK to break down these barriers and open up new, exciting opportunities for businesses and consumers so we can see improved productivity, jobs and growth.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan is making her first speech since being appointed to the role of International Trade Secretary. PA

"Our five-point plan is the first step in shaping international digital trade policy for decades to come. Through our network of international agreements, we are breaking new ground, pushing forward innovative ideas and setting a new gold standard for digital trade."

Businesses, the DIT said, faced barriers reducing their ability to benefit from digital technology, including paperless trading, and making digital trade easier would enable businesses to trade efficiently and cost-effectively.

The plan comprises proposals for more open digital markets, free and trusted cross-border data flow, the support of consumer and business safeguards, promotion of the development and adoption of innovative digital trading systems and establishing global co-operation on digital trade.

The UK tech sector raised £13.5bn in the first six months of 2021, three times the amount for the same period last year. In an additional fillip, it outstripped regional rival Germany, which raised £6.2bn, said the UK’s Digital Economy Council, a body aimed at creating jobs and growth in the sector.

Britain ranks third in the world, after the US and China, for tech investment and the number of tech unicorns – privately held companies worth more than $1bn. Twenty unicorns were created in the past six months in the UK, taking the total to 105, the council said.

Updated: September 20, 2021, 10:06 AM