This blog is taken a panel discussion on Foreign Service Careers organised for students in London by 1-800Home.
I run the Economics Section in the Embassy. That is the place where we focus on the US-UK economic relationship. It’s a very big relationship in this case – you have $230 billion dollars of trade going back and forth across the Atlantic each year and over £1.2 trillion in investment both ways in each others economy about $600 billion each and it’s the biggest investment relationship in the world between two countries. Over 1 million people in the UK work for American firms and its pretty much the same thing for British firms working in the US. We act as the eyes and ears and voice of Washington whenever there is an economic issue that requires some attention. For example Washington will ask us to do something and we will make what is called a demarche that’s a French word and it means that we talk to the UK government and we say here is what our government thinks about the latest trade issue or about what is happening in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) about tax rules around the world. We will make those positions known to Her Majesty’s Government and will get the response from Her Majesty’s Government and we will get the response back to Washington. Also we describe what is happening inside a particular country – that’s the ‘eyes’ function.
I have been in the Economic Section of many different countries for example in Serbia during the period when its economy had just recovered from hyper inflation and I did a lot of reporting there about what was going on as they tried to heal their economy. Also Milosovic was in charge of that economy at the time and I talked about how he controlled it and helped Washington understand it better. Here in the UK a lot of that function comes down to Brexit these days. We pay a lot of attention with the colleagues in the political section to understand what the potential impacts are. To drill down into that a bit more, we think of Brexit as an issue between the United Kingdom and the European Union but there are many aspects of Brexit that directly affect US interests so we would focus in on those interests. What would happen to that $600 billion in American investment in London if various scenarios play out with Brexit? What happens to those companies? What problems do they have? What is going to be the impact on their situation?
We have treaties with the EU that regulate civilian nuclear cooperation and allow for nuclear assessment, safety aviation and flight rules for example. We would need to look at these. There are also about 14 rules on data privacy that we would have to renegotiate and have ready to go when the UK leaves the EU at the end of March in 2019. So we are working with Washington to facilitate that process. Washington agencies are actually the ones negotiating those treaties but we help set up conversations and make sure there is deeper understanding of the issues. We are doing that both to facilitate the US role direct impact on Brexit areas but also to help Washington understand the state of play on Brexit. It’s a very complex issue and senior policy makers in Washington don’t really have time to do a lot of complex reading and really understand the details of the backstop to the backstop proposal. We put try to put that in simple terms for Washington.
We cover the economy, we have people doing macro economics, financial services, the trade function, sanctions, transportation – for example aviation, intellectual property rights. e also have locally employed staff (British nationals) that work with us. We have 3 1/2 locally employed staff – we share one with the political section – it’s not half a person! They help us. When we are new to a country and we don’t understand yet the details of the economy, they provide continuity and help us get to speed very quickly. They are a critical part of the team. Altogether we have about 17 people in the Economic Section. We also work closely with other departments that are also in the embassy. We work with the Department of Commerce that is also in the Embassy (the Foreign Commercial Service). They provide services to US firms that want to export to the UK. This tends to be for smaller and meidum sized companies rather than very large companies like Apple. They also interact (as do I) with the bigger firms in order to understand the operating environment on Brexit and how it affects their interests. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is also represented by the Foreign Agricultural Service. They are a little bit smaller than we are but they do important work. The Agricultural Service is focused on agricultural exports to the UK but they do a lot of reporting just as I was describing about my functions, but on the agricultural side. And the Foreign Commercial Service is focused on providing services to US firms that want to export to the UK. It is probably not Apple or Exxon that need their help. It tends to be firms in the small to medium enterprise range but they also interact, as do I with the bigger firms to understand what the operating environment is for example on Brexit to understand how Brexit affects their interests.