Diplomats to join trade spotting business

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Trade spotting, the promotion of exports and inward investment, is to be made a central function of the Diplomatic Service at all British missions overseas, a Government White Paper will announce today.

The change of gear for the embassies and high commissions has been agreed by Ian Laing, President of the Board of Trade, and the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, who will make a Commons statement on the White Paper, "Global Free Trade And Foreign Policy", this afternoon.

The impact of the policy was blunted yesterday by a leaked letter from John Major's office, in which a member of his staff wrote: "Presentation will obviously be crucial if the White Paper is to achieve the impact we want.

"The Prime Minister noted there is not much of the paper which can be seen as identifiably new and that distilling from it a convincing action plan may not be easy.

"Delivering the message in an imaginative and headline-catching way will therefore be particularly important."

The key message of the White Paper is that diplomacy can be improved by trade and that exports can be helped not only by inward, foreign investment in Britain, but also by British investment overseas.

A Government source said yesterday that the White Paper marked a stronger commitment to the promotion of trade "from the heart of the Foreign Office".

Trade promotion was no longer being seen as something beneath ambassadors and all big missions already have strong commercial teams. "But it is now going to be a central and not an ancillary function," the source said.

The White Paper will mark a change in the relationship between the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, with the creation of a joint export promotion directorate which will have the job of making sure that the new policy penetrates all parts of the Diplomatic Service.

"There is already a greater export consciousness within the Foreign Office but it does need a push," the source said.

Nevertheless, as the DTI's White Paper on competitiveness said in June, 85,000 British and local company visits were handled by overseas posts last year and the same posts also provided 6,000 specific information services for British business.

"The Government provides a range of services delivered through a worldwide network of over 200 commercial posts overseas," the White Paper said.

Their work was backed up by a DTI staff in London which included more than 100 export promoters seconded from the private sector.