Trade between Oklahoma and the United Kingdom is thriving, and it’s Karen Bell’s job to promote and enhance trade and investment.
Karen Bell is the Consul General of the United Kingdom, stationed in Houston, Texas. Oklahoma falls within the five-state area in which she works.
“The UK is already the fifth largest market for exports of goods and services from Oklahoma. And the value actually to your local economy on trade with the UK, is getting on for half a billion dollars,” Bell told KGOU’s World Views.
Bell says much of the trade comes from the aerospace industry, manufactured goods, services, and oil and gas.
Tourism is also a major connection between Oklahoma and the United Kingdom.
“I don't have the detailed numbers for Oklahoma, I can say that on all of my visits here, it's hard to find somebody who hasn't sort of spent some time in the UK,” Bell said.
Recent terrorist incidents in London, including attacks on Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and London Bridge, have led to an increased security presence. Despite these incidents, she says the British people are continuing with life as normal.
“We’re an incredibly resilient country…we didn’t coin the phrase, ‘Keep calm and carry on,’ for no reason,” Bell said.
The impending exit from the European Union in March 2019 is the country’s top current political issue. Bell says UK leaders are now in the process of detailing what the relationship with Europe will look like after Brexit.
“Although we're leaving the European Union, we're not leaving Europe. It's going to continue to be a massively important partner for us on everything that matters to people. So, for example, at the moment it is our largest export market, and it really matters to us that we have the most frictionless trading relationship with Europe, in a post-Brexit world,” Bell said.
Additionally, Bell says leadership is planning how to not return to a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland, which is the UK’s only land border with the EU. They are also looking at ensuring the rights of EU citizens who have settled in the UK.
“We hugely value the contribution that they have made to our national life, to our economy, and we want to make sure that they feel safe and secure and that they and their families have certainty about what their future looks like in a post Brexit world,” Bell said.
Bell says the UK will continue to be committed to free trade, science and technology, and higher education.
“I definitely don't think [what] you're going to seem is … some kind of pulling up of drawbridges. That's actually the complete reverse of the Britain that we want to be post-Brexit,” Bell said.
On the economic relationship between the UK and Oklahoma:
I had a really good conversation with the lieutenant governor and we were talking about the opportunities to further develop our trade and investment relationship. It's already in great shape. I mean the UK is already the fifth largest market for exports of goods and services from Oklahoma. And the value actually to your local economy on trade with the UK, is getting on for half a billion dollars covering a whole range of sectors. So it's a really good news story. But there always scope for us to do more, so one of the reasons that I'm here is just to kind of scope out some of those opportunities.
Britain’s security dilemma:
Life goes on as normal ... We’re an incredibly resilient country. There's a real sort of ... we didn't coined the phrase “Keep calm and carry on” for no reason. But what people will see is that we are taking seriously the policing of our major cities. So for example last week ... there was a more visible police presence in response to the last incident we had. And that's just part of an effective policing response.
On the some of the implications of Brexit
A really important part of that, of course, is ensuring that what we don't end up with is a return to a hard border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. That's our only land border with the rest of the European Union. And I think both sides are absolutely clear that we can have no return to that. So there needs to be a kind of creative solution found. A number of ideas of are being put forth on that. The other thing that we've been very clear about, is that we really want to look after those EU citizens who have made their home in the UK in the period that we've been in the European Union. We hugely value the contribution that they have made to our national life, to our economy, and we want to make sure that they feel safe and secure and that they and their families have certainty about what their future looks like in a post Brexit world.
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Grillot: Karen Bell, welcome to World Views.
Bell: Well Suzette, thank you so much for having me on. I'm really excited to be here.
Grillot: It's great to have you here. And so I want to start with the work that you're doing as the consul general of the United Kingdom stationed in Houston. some of the things you are focused on are enhancing trade and investment, and promoting science and innovation, and that sort of thing. So can you maybe start there and tell us a little bit about the work that you're actually doing it in how you're connecting to Oklahoma.
Bell: Well thank you. Yes you're right. I mean I cover a five state area in Oklahoma is very always very near the top of my list. This is I think my fourth visit since I took up my role in Houston two years ago, and trade and investment is a very important part of my sort of suite of responsibilities. I mean, I had a really good conversation with the lieutenant governor and we were talking about the opportunities to further develop our trade and investment relationship. It's already in great shape. I mean the U.K. is already the fifth largest market for exports of goods and services from Oklahoma. And the value actually to your local economy on trade with the UK, is getting on for half a billion dollars covering a whole range of sectors. So it's a really good news story. But there always scope for us to do more, so one of the reasons that I'm here is just to kind of scope out some of those opportunities.
Grillot: So what are the commodities that we are engaging in this trade? Where are we sending to the UK?
Bell: It's a good cross-section of stuff. The aerospace industry is an important part of it. Manufactured goods. You'd expect that in a state like Oklahoma, that oil and gas would be a part of the story and it is, but also it's increasingly about services. So it's about transportation services, tourism, logistics which is you know obviously of growing importance here.
Grillot: The U.K. is one of the top destinations for Americans. But as of late there's been you know some negative news as well so how is the U.K. managing that sort of thing in terms of tourism and attracting people to the U.K.
Bell: Well you're right. I mean the US is in a massively important market for us, and we so welcome all of our visitors from the U.S. Certainly. Well I don't have the detailed numbers for Oklahoma, I can say that on all of my visits here, It's hard to find somebody who hasn't sort of spent some time in the U.K. and we really appreciate that and I am and want to see that side of our relationship grow. Something I would say is that over the last year the exchange rates been fantastically in the favor of anybody spending dollars. We've been running a bit of a fire sale so that's one more great reason to come and see us. I think what you're alluding to in terms of some of the challenges has been some of the, you know, the awful security incidents that we've had to deal with. Of course the UK has not been alone in that. And it's another very important dimension of our relationship with the US, that we you know we stand shoulder to shoulder on all of these issues. I think there's no closer relationship than the one that you would see between our military and also our security and intelligence services.
Bell: What I would say for anybody thinking about a trip to the U.K. quite aside from the quality of our offer. I mean, Americans understand like nobody else you know they're wonderful sort of heritage, the cultural offer. Increasingly it's about our sort of countryside, and those second city trips which so many American tourists and able to make. What I would say is that I have been back to the U.K. I think I was there the week after the Westminster attack. And life goes on as normal you know people, we’re an incredibly resilient country. There's a real sort of we, didn't coined the phrase Keep Calm and Carry on for no reason. But what people will see is that we are taking seriously the policing of our of our major cities, So for example last week there were a few, there was a more visible police presence, In response to the last incident we had. And that's just part of an effective policing response.
Grillot: let's return to trade in economics for a minute, because obviously to me the biggest issue on the table must be for you too, is the impending exit of the UK from the European Union. What we know as Brexit. There obviously have been a lot of political ramifications, how it's affecting some of your domestic politics in the U.K. So where what are we to think now about where this is headed, and where the implications are going to be for the U.K. longer term on the trade and economics side?
Bell: Well thank you, you're right I mean it is the number one political issue of the day in the U.K. at the moment. And I think one of the things we've seen over the last year is, party politics aside, there is a there is a strong sense of a sense of agreement that we are definitely on a one way journey which will take us out of the European Union at the end of March in 2019. And so we're now engaged in a detailed process of preparing for what our relationship with Europe will look like after we leave the EU, but also thinking about the real opportunities that our departure from the EU means for relationships with other partners, none more important to us of course than the United States. The prime minister gave a very wide-ranging speech in Florence. And that really I think set out some very important key principles for the kind of relationship that we that we want to have, and the constructive way in which we want to be engaging with our European partners as we really get into the nuts and bolts of our negotiation. I mean some of the things that we've made very clear from the start, but are sort of intensifying our efforts around making clear that although we're leaving the European Union, we're not leaving Europe. It's going to continue to be a massively important partner for us on everything that matters to people. So for example, at the moment it is our largest export market, and it really matters to us that we have the most frictionless trading relationship with Europe, in a post-Brexit world. And what we want to see is a bespoke framework for the UK and the EU. We know we are we are such a large economy on the continent. It makes sense, it seems to us on both sides that we don't do anything to impede the contribution two-way trade makes to jobs and growth in the U.K. and in the EU.
Bell: We've published a position paper last month which talks about what a future customs arrangement might look like, and put forward a couple of quite substantive ideas for consideration by the negotiating teams on both sides. First a really important part of that of course is ensuring that what we don't end up with is a return to a hard border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. That's our only land border with the rest of the European Union. And I think both sides are absolutely clear that we can have no return to that. So there needs to be a kind of creative solution found. A number of ideas of being put forth on that. The other thing that we've been very clear about, is that we really want to look after those EU citizens who have made their home in the UK in the period that we've been in the European Union. We hugely value the contribution that they have made to our national life, to our economy, and we want to make sure that they feel safe and secure and that they and their families have certainty about what their future looks like in a post Brexit world. And so again, one of the things the prime minister talked about was guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens who live in the UK. There will be no change to the way in which their life feels. They will have the same, they'll enjoy the same rights as they have done sort of up to 2019. There will be a conversation to be had about what are our immigration arrangements look like with other Europe citizens of other European countries after 2019. But again, I think it's part and parcel of us wanting to continue that sort of closeness that friendship and not making life more difficult.
Grillot: Could we talk for just a second about the domestic political ramifications of this? There was not an even vote on whether to remain or not accept for example. So what do you see foresee happening maybe with Scotland, or you know other parts of the U.K. that have interests in maintaining that relationship, and would have preferred to remain? So you know the political parties that are now kind of lining up, in different directions and so some of their real concerns I think for everyone in the UK and elsewhere that are interested in this part of the world. What's going to happen inside the country beyond the issue of immigration?
Bell: Yeah, I think that you raise the really excellent points. And I think one of the things that's been absolutely essential to sort of deciding what our negotiating position is going to be, is bringing in the views from all parts of the of the United Kingdom. So, you know the devolved administrations in Wales, and Scotland, and Northern Ireland, are absolutely sort of essential contributors to forming our positions, in the same way that we know we want to talk to on economic issues. We need to understand what different industry groups are saying, too. Because if we come out with a deal which doesn't respond to the broad range of interests, then that's government we would have done our job. But it is not going to pretend it's straightforward that there is a lot, there is a lot to be hashed out, but I think we've been clear from day one that Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the cities to which are, of course, increasingly important in terms of having a particular set of interests, that that those concerns are reflected in the things that we are asking for as we go into the negotiations.
Grillot: Immigration clearly seems to be one of the maybe top issues beyond economy, jobs, but it's also related to that, too. It also seems to be related to perhaps some security issues that you've been facing. So just is this kind of a driving issue for a lot of this Brexit movement? Is that kind of at the top of the list of how do we deal with the immigration issue, and maybe that will help us solve some of the other political, economic, and social issues that are on the forefront?
Bell: So immigration was obviously one of a number of factors, as far as we can tell from this that you know the post referendum was sort of analysis that's been done. I don't know whether it was the only one, we've always had a slightly sort of difficult relationship with Europe, and I think philosophically Brits have ever really felt quite as European as you know our French and German counterparts, and that's partly because you know we're an island nation, and it's just it has it hasn't been the way that our kind of culture has evolved. But you know, getting back control of immigration, alongside a sense that I think people wanted to bring decision-making back to Westminster, that was you know a concern that Brussels was increasingly sort of involved in parts of public life, where people felt that those decisions might have been better taken closer to home. So I think there are a number a number of factors at play there. I mean in terms of what our future relationship looks like, say that a number of these things are going to need to be worked out and so I don't want, I haven't got a crystal ball that says what our immigration relationship will look like, but I think we have been very clear. That's one of the reasons we will be leaving the single market is because we understand that for our European partners, that the four, the so called four freedoms are absolutely, and it's strictly interwoven, and you can't pick and choose and we understand and we and we respect that.
Bell: But I don't but I definitely don't think you're going to seem is a some kind of pulling up of drawbridges. That's actually the complete reverseof the Britain that we want to be post-Brexit. We, we've always been an economy that's absolutely founded on free trade, our you know our universities were sitting here in a wonderful university. Our universities have been centers of learning which have been open to ideas. We actually want to be even more effective global players, and global citizens, as we look towards our future post Brexit.
Bell: And so for example, I mean to sort of extend this sort of the university side of the story, we were very clear at a very early stage that we wanted to preserve funding arrangements with Europe, for European programs. I think as far back as August last year, we'd already got an announcement from our Treasury Department that there would be guarantees of sustained funding, to ensure we could continue to have those research collaborations. But here in the U.S. I mean we just signed a really important bilateral U.S. U.K. agreement on science and technology cooperation. And that's part of a you know, what we would see is a set of new opportunities for us to broaden our engagement with other partners, including as I say here in the U.S. And free trade is something which we can't talk about yet, because we like to play by the rules. You know we didn't invent cricket for nothing. We can't start negotiating a free trade agreement until such time as we have left the EU, We can and we are already doing some pretty intensive preparatory work to ensure that as soon as we are legally able to, we can make progress and hopefully get signed a free trade agreement with the US.
Grillot: Thank you so much Consul General Karen Bell for being here today to talk about this because we’re all watching with great interest. So thank you so much.
Bell: It's been a huge pleasure. Thank you for having me.
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