Business

The UK needs to open up for business, not just summer holidays

BY Shanker Singham & Tony Smith   /  13 July 2020

All the discussion about the UK border quarantine measures and the air corridor exemptions which have now been announced, – have been focused on allowing British people to enjoy their summer holidays abroad after months of lockdown.  We are as fond of our summer holidays as the next person; but this focus only on tourism and demand side spending neglects the primary reason for allowing travel into and out of the UK – which is to restart business.

The UK in general – and London in particular – is a critical business destination for many countries, beyond those on a list which seems to have been formulated by some combination of holiday spots and British Airways key routes.  The most significant business routes, where there is a shared legal, business and services component are routes like London-New York, London-Washington, London-Dubai, London-Singapore and so on.  Requiring people  to quarantine for 14 days on arrival from these destinations will have a significant negative impact on London, at a time when the rest of the world is coming out of lockdown and reopening. Business meetings will be moved away from London, which will start to lose its primacy as a time zone hub as well as a geographic one.

It is also mystifying because in terms of Covid-19 responsiveness, Singapore and UAE have an exemplary record, having tested more people per million than most countries and certainly more than any on the current list. Whilst the USA has a relatively high infection rate, US airlines and airports are rapidly introducing new measures announced by the US Transportation Secretary last week to mitigate risks associated with Covid-19 including face masks, social distancing, health assessments and contact tracing.

The key to recovering from Covid-19, as is widely acknowledged, is ensuring comprehensive test and track facilities so that localised outbreaks can be contained, and so countries do not have to engage in massive country-wide lockdowns every time there are further waves of the disease.  It will take some time before a vaccine is found, and we don’t even really know how immunity might apply or for how long.  In the meantime, testing is key factor in ensuring we don’t have a complete economic meltdown from which we never recover.

UAE has already tested over 385,000 per million, and Singapore is at 148,000 per million.  By comparison, in some of the UK tourist destination countries where we have relaxed quarantine, Turkey has tested 46,000 per million, and Jamaica has tested only 9,000 per million. It is almost as if those who have done the right thing are now being penalised; and this is particularly bad because of its input on critical business corridors.

The below table shows countries, their test rate, tests per million and a metric, test ppm * the inverse of positive test rate which is a proxy for the success of the testing as well as how successful the country is in suppressing disease locally, both critical factors in opening up.The table shows how inexplicable the UK decision is. Some countries with low scores are on the list, and some with high scores (suggestive of good testing and low rates of infection) are not.  The better approach would be to open up key business corridors and apply a test of not doing so only when their combined scores were low.

The table shows how inexplicable the UK decision is. Some countries with low scores are on the list, and some with high scores (suggestive of good testing and low rates of infection) are not.  The better approach would be to open up key business corridors and apply a test of not doing so only when their combined scores were low.

There are two crucial reasons why we should open these air corridors. The first is because it is safe. Indeed, it is much safer than is the case with many other jurisdictions on the list.

The second is because it is the only way we are really going to be able to open up the UK to business. It recognises the crucial role that the UK’s service providers play in legal, business and financial services, and how interconnected they are with major centres like New York, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Singapore.  The heart of their work is the ease with which they can travel around these hubs.  These are the trade superhighways that will ultimately drive global growth, and rescue us from the economic shutdown we are in.

We must get these pathways firing once more; and our policy should be to limit them only if there is a really good reason to do so. Based on the health and security issues alone, it is hard to see that such a reason currently exists.

Shanker Singham is the Chairman of Global Economic Neural Networks (GENN), and CEO of Competere, former trade adviser to the UK Trade Secretary and USTR.

Tony Smith is the former head of UK Border Force, and the former Director of Ports Of Entry in both Canada and the UK. He is the CEO of Fortinus Global.


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