Editor’s note: The below story is based on an arrival interview with new U.K. Consul General Andrew Staunton, who will also be the featured guest at Global Atlanta’s upcoming Consular Conversations luncheon and public interview Aug. 22. Sign up here to eat something and learn something while meeting the South’s top British diplomat.
Before taking up his new post in Atlanta, Andrew Staunton took a three-month jaunt around the United Kingdom.
Part of the goal of visiting cities like Belfast, Swansea, Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle was to reacquaint himself with his country after eight years posted abroad in Ireland, then Greece — to see how the British economy is shifting into a new gear.
“While the focus may be on Brexit, we are really modernizing and transforming our economy into a more knowledge-based and high-tech economy,” he said.
But the new British consul general in Atlanta also wanted to gauge opinions from companies about the place where he’d soon find himself — the Southeastern United States.
Previous British consuls general might have been met with blank stares upon even asking the question, but Mr. Staunton saw evidence of momentum in the relationship. Especially in the above ex-London industrial hubs, he found an elevated level of interest for engaging with the South.
That appetite for deeper ties bodes well for his time here, he says, and dovetails nicely with the growth story of the six-state region he covers.
The South happens to be strong in the areas the U.K. government is aiming to reinvigorate — advanced manufacturing in areas like aerospace and automotive, as well as public-private partnerships centered on innovative research.
“(Cities) see much more opportunity for collaboration with the Southeast. They like what’s happening here in terms of linkages between university research and business with support from authorities to try and position cities for centers of excellence in the tech space, life sciences, creative and other industries,” Mr. Staunton said.
Cities throughout the U.K. and especially in the north of England, he said, are creating Catapult centres, government-backed accelerators focused on specific industry sectors like digital media or gene and cell-therapy, all based around universities. Innovate UK is funding the initiatives and is seeking partners.
“They are aware of how rich the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia and the other cities are in terms of groundbreaking research, so part of my role is to make those connections,” he said.
One recent example: U.K. company Featurespace presented at the Fintech South conference in Atlanta in May. The company came out of Cambridge University research on artificial intelligence and is now part of the British government’s ambitious goals to enhance that sector through overseas engagement. Atlanta payments firms are already benefiting, using the company’s machine-learning algorithms to detect fraud.
Trump Trade Friction
After the United Kingdom leaves the EU in March of next year, it would likely seek to have advanced sectors like these included on the agenda in negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S.
While the U.K. has long said it would welcome a bilateral deal with the U.S., Secretary for International Trade Liam Fox turned the sentiment into stated policy this week, announcing that the U.S., New Zealand and Australia would be priority markets for bilateral deals after Brexit. He added that the U.K. would be interested in exploring membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But at the same time, President Donald Trump during a state visit to the U.K. threw into doubt the inevitability of a U.S.-U.K. trade deal, injecting himself into a fierce parliamentary debate by suggesting the tenor of bilateral talks would hinge on the type of Brexit deal that shakes out between the U.K. and the European Union.
At the time, Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative-led coalition were fending off criticism that their Brexit strategy outlined in their recent white paper didn’t go far enough to extricate the U.K. from the EU. Ms. May countered that key goals of Brexit — restoring control over borders and sovereignty over trade policy — could be achieved while preserving near-frictionless trade with the bloc, which remains the top export market for British products.
For his part, Mr. Staunton said the friction over trade wouldn’t jeopardize the broader alliance, which is rooted as much in security as it is in economic collaboration.
“The noise around it attracts a lot of media attention, but the U.K. and the U.S. are, have been and will continue to be the closest of economic and political partners,” the consul general said.
Still a member of the EU for now, the U.K. supported retaliatory measures undertaken to counter unilateral U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs Mr. Trump imposed on the basis of national security.
Overall, though, Mr. Trump was able to see during his visit just how close the two countries are, Mr. Staunton said, and the president has made it clear that he wants the eventual Brexit framework to truly free up the U.K. for trade talks with the U.S.
“President Trump, if you read the commentators, has the reputation of being a dealmaker, and I think he sees a deal out there that impresses him,” Mr. Staunton said. “That’s not a bad starting point.”
Want to hear more from the new British consul general? Join Mr. Staunton and Global Atlanta for the next Consular Conversation luncheon and interview at the law firm of Miller & Martin on Aug. 22. Sign up here.