Innovation will give the UK a cutting edge over the EU
BY CHRIS BULLIVANT
Economic recovery after COVID post-Brexit will need the UK to be able to develop existing industries in new markets, fast.
One area where the UK will have a significant competitive advantage over the EU once outside is in scientific innovation – in particular the application of genetic technology to agriculture. The UK’s research institutes are leaders in their fields, but EU membership and an excess of the application of “precautionary principle” stifles our global influence.
The potential range of applications could have huge public health bonuses. Peanuts that don’t kill those with peanut allergies. Wheat that doesn’t harm celiacs. New oil from modified soybeans that has diminished trans fatty acids when used in cooking. Environmental positives too, such as preserving trees at risk of wipeout from invasive new diseases, or reducing food waste through ensuring produce can survive transport and storage for longer.
But the market for improved agricultural technology is massive. Much of it lies in emerging economies across Africa and South East Asia. Countries like Uganda and Bangladesh are keen for the UK to take a lead in pioneering new technologies. It will open up access to markets for them, to improve the application of their own science. And as subsistence farmers increase yields and savings and go on to become successful sellers of produce, there will be more customers for the sort of small tractors the UK is particularly skilled at building.
The UK has strong diplomatic missions across Africa. Outside the EU we are in a position to reclaim relationships and innovative leadership with a commercial edge across a region where influence is being lost to others. This means transitioning from the dominance of the Department for International Development to a more commercially minded form of development led by the Foreign Office and Department of International Trade priorities.
The UK wants to play its part in eradicating poverty on the continent. We have been generous through AID over decades. But a perpetual handout culture from Europe while others take economic advantage of the region does not build the sort of economic vitality required for lasting prosperity.
If Africa can develop a strong agrarian economy that means also developing infrastructure (roads, transportation, refrigeration, energy, shipping) and other spin-off industries that will build stronger internal markets, affirm domestic institutions, and build and strengthen a middle class so essential in checking abuses of local political power.
The vision is to see an increase of African countries trading with one another: the continent currently exports over 80% of its homegrown goods, and most of this in raw materials – like coffee beans – that are roasted, ground, and packaged primarily in Germany. Currently it is developed countries that mark up and profit from resources harvested in Africa.
How much better for the UK, with its strong traditions of parliamentary democracy, strong advocacy for human rights, private property rights, and the freedom and dignity of the individual, to play a role in opening up true, competitive, and non-exploitative markets in the region: building a vast market with which to trade.
Britain, with its language, ideas, science, engineering and bio-science clout, has the potential to play a vital, compassionate, and truly exciting role in the development of emerging economies across Africa once we are outside of the EU. Vital not only to the prosperity of Africa, but for the UK too.
Chris Bullivant is a freelance writer who has led two Westminster think tanks and worked on K Street in Washington DC. Follow him on Twitter: @chrisbullivant