Manufacturing is likely to lead the road to economic recovery, but a re-considered mix of buying local vs buying global will ensure international trade has a future – according to industry experts on the panel at the British Italian Conservatives’ first live webinar on the 30th of April 2020.

Agility, organisational resilience, innovation, businesses knowing their supply chains and finding ‘another way of doing things’ will ensure a future for global trade – although it will ‘take time’.

The webinar, sponsored by Tratos (UK) and chaired by its CEO, and Chair of BIC, Dr Maurizio Bragagni, opened with a few moments’ silence to remember NHS frontline staff, essential workers keeping services and supplies moving – and those sadly lost to COVID-19.

The webinar, which posed the question: ‘Is there a future for global trade?’ opened a window on a variety of perspectives from panellists including former Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee and former Secretary of State for BEIS (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP; Ms Arantxa Tapia Otaegi, Minister Of Economic Development and Infrastructure for the Basque Country;  President of PEMA (Port Equipment Manufacturers Association) Mr Ottonel Popesco and BSI Group Director of Standards, Mr Scott Steedman.

The session invited real-time questions for the panel from those registering and included: localisation vs. globalisation?; trade-in a post-COVID-19 world, and the effect on the UK; the importance of industry and innovation during pandemic times and public investment as a recipe against global recession.

The Webinar was live on Tratos Youtube channel and it is still available.


PEMA president Ottonel Popesco set out his vision for recovery pointing to an 18-month journey which would see a more complex supply chain.  He said: “We have already seen a drastic change in consumer behaviour.  Globalisation may return to its peak – or we will regionalise, but we are going to have to adapt to survive.”

“We globalised to reduce costs – now we are paying the consequences, I’m sorry to say that.  We cannot go back to where we were 30 years ago.  We have invested too much in service industries.”

BSI’s Scott Steedman saw a shift to include smaller manufacturing units out of town in shopping centres, to make components that can’t be brought in easily and quickly from somewhere else.  He said: “We’re talking about masks, different sorts of masks.  We need to be very agile to mix local, adaptable high-end batch manufacture in this country with areas where we can bring in from overseas to standard and at speed.  This has been a terrific test for the world. “There’s been a lot of learning here, we’re seeing the acceleration of trends and it is innovative companies that will pivot – and find ways to adapt.”

“Industry has to think ahead, and about post-transition.  All we’ve talked about today – trade, manufacturing – is underpinned by international standards.  Global solutions mean global standards.  There should be global interest in one standard used everywhere.”

“Investment is attracted to sustainable companies.  Building back better is a priority.  Leading companies are taking stock of what’s happened and now we’ve been forced to think about the future.  We want to recover old markets and find new ones. This is going to be a turning point for responsible corporations they’re going to build better globally and locally.”

Greg Clark took the time to thank the British Italian Conservatives for ‘bringing people together during a crisis rather than after it’ before urging people to examine global trade’s contribution and value.  He said: “People are worried and want to insulate themselves.  So we need to emphasise an understanding of trade and access to medicines, which is foremost in people’s minds at the moment.  

“In the UK most of our prescription drugs are manufactured overseas.  We need to keep people healthy. Infrastructure and jobs are essential.  Essential to infrastructure are international suppliersHe added that the terrible experience of COVID-19 might work to advance Brexit discussions because they could be conducted without the political contention that would otherwise attend them: “Those leading Brexit deal negotiations will have the ability to concentrate and make more progress than if Brexit was a centre stage (as it was before COVID-19).  A combination of time and space to devote to Brexit will enable a resolution.” 

Speaking for her own country, Arantxa Tapia Otaegi said: “We are seeing media and politicians in countries around the world focusing on national issues – it’s understandable.  “When we come out of this pandemic and try to reinvigorate our supply chains and industry, how do we measure success – against how we were before the pandemic? “As a small country if our industry is not global, it will not be around in the future; we have to be international.” “We don’t have manufacturing capability to supply all the needs of our care system.  So sometimes we think global and we buy outside – but not everything has to be global, our manufacturing for these essential areas should be local.”

BIC’s Deputy Chairman Simon Blagden closed the webinar with a summary of the event’s key insights and thanks to panellists and participants adding: “ BIC is a very active group with a very diverse group within Westminster.  We should look forward to when we can shake hands when next we meet.”


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