Freeing-Up Financial Services

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 21, 2005 | Go to article overview

Freeing-Up Financial Services


Byline: ANTHONY HILTON

PETER Mandelson, wearing his hat as EU Commissioner for Trade, was in town today and being lobbied by the City. It wants him to work harder in the current World Trade Organisation-sponsored negotiations - the Doha Development Round - to get a deal that will liberalise the provision of financial services and make it easier for the City to sell its skills overseas.

The fear, as succinctly expressed recently by the Association of British Insurers, is that the greatest opportunity of the decade to liberalise trade will degenerate into horsetrading over agriculture and market access, and everything else will go by the board.

European Commission negotiators and the British Government regularly pay lip service to the importance of financial services, says the ABI. But the reality is that their negotiating tactics make it ever more likely that services will be squeezed out of any final deal.

Hence the efforts to bend Mandelson's ear and let him know that it would be disastrous for Britain and a huge setback for all members of the WTO if this were allowed to happen.

It is particularly crucial for Britain. In 2003 this country was the world's second-largest exporter of services. Within the overall trade mix, services and their proportion of the total are growing all the time. As recently as the early 1990s, services were barely a third of the value of British exports, excluding oil. Today they exceed half the value. For that growth to continue, the City needs access to new markets - such as China, India, Brazil and Mexico - where a fast-expanding middle class offers opportunities for growth that dwarf anything available in the Western world. But such places, in subtle and often not-so-subtle ways, make it difficult for overseas companies to get established.

What the City finds galling is that the politicians' interests and focus in the negotiations on agriculture, textiles and the run of traditional goods fail to recognise the rapid changes already taking place in the developing world. In 1970, only about a quarter of foreign direct investment flowing into developing countries related to services. …

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