Business Monday

Q&A with Andrew Mitchell, British diplomat in charge of prosperity

Andrew Mitchell
Andrew Mitchell Foreign and Commonwealth Office, U.K.

Andrew Mitchell, a British career diplomat, has had assignments ranging from a posting in Kathmandu to the 2012 London Olympics to economic posts, including his current job as the sanguine-sounding director of prosperity.

One of his self-described “odd jobs” was helping out at the royal wedding of Prince William and the former Kate Middleton. His role was “looking after all the foreign kings and queens.”

Tying that back to the economy, which is at the heart of his current job, he notes that an economic calculation of the wedding’s cost vs. the economic bounce that resulted showed “the economic bounce was greater by a factor of 10.” But, he added, “it also showed there was depressed spending for days and days after the wedding.”

Last year he won Diplomat Magazine’s award for “Distinguished Contribution to Diplomacy in London” for his work during Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, which were attended by 95 heads of state.

London-based Mitchell recently visited the Miami Herald with David Prodger, the new British consul general in Miami, before heading to Panama for business.

In a wide-ranging interview, he touched on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, the global and British economies, the potential for new British economic relationships with Latin America — and soccer.

Q. What exactly does a director of prosperity do?

A. In essence, we’ve always had an interest, as a foreign ministry, in bringing together the various bits and pieces of the work we do on the international economy and in promoting British business overseas. But the description of what we do as prosperity and the idea that prosperity is at the core of what we do as a ministry dates from the beginning of this government in 2010.

The current government has set a very, very clear aspiration to put prosperity at the heart of government policies at home and overseas. It’s about creating jobs and wealth at home and about creating the conditions for growth overseas and capitalizing on them to develop new business.

It’s also part of a broader concept of what we, as a government, need to do to help create global growth. In the next 15 years, it is quite likely the size of the global economy will increase by 50 percent and it is important that it is the right kind of growth. What do I mean by the right kind of growth? Growth that’s sustainable and all those development goals you would recognize. It also includes energy access for all.

Q. You’ve said you are devoting about 30 percent of your time to the Russia-Ukraine dispute. How have you been involved?

A. I lead the economic part for the Foreign Office. You can view economic sanctions as an economic tool that is used by governments to achieve certain diplomatic ends but they’re only part of a diplomatic strategy. Actually it’s economic pressure that’s most relevant and most effective in this modern world.

Energy, of course, is absolutely part of that problem because Europe is dependent on Russian energy. Very few people, I think, credited Europe with the courage to take the decisions it has taken over recent weeks in the face of the very significant threat Russia poses to the international order.

What we’ve had to say is President [Vladimir] Putin, through the actions that Russia has undertaken in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, this constitutes a threat to our international system and to the global openness that is fundamental to our prosperity and security.

We’ve worked with our G7 partners and particularly closely with the United States to progressively ratchet up sanctions to signal this is a threat to the international order and we’re not going to tolerate it. The sanctions are beginning to have an effect. Ultimately they’ll cut Russia’s access to finance and access to modern technology, for example, for drilling in the Arctic and high-grade machine tools. I say this with a heavy heart because no one wants to be in this position.

But energy is at the heart of it because unless we diversify our energy supplies toward low-carbon, sustainable solutions that effectively aren’t dependent on the whims of someone like President Putin, then that problem exists.

Q. You’ve noted that you spend the vast majority of your time on pleasanter themes. What occupies most of your time?

A. We spend a lot of time supporting British businesses overseas that are trying to trade and invest, and international business trying to invest in the U.K. There’s still a global trading system that contains market access barriers, inequities. There is far from a level playing field in all markets overseas. We take a very proactive view in helping British companies. Free trade agreements are very much a part of that, none more important than T-TIP [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership]. If we’re successful, it will fundamentally redesign the rules of free trade.

Q. Is there resistance at home to T-TIP?

A. Yes, there’s resistance — not significant — among those who see this as vehicle for undermining public services. There is a debate at the moment about to what extent it will continue a process of privatization of national health services.

But by and large there isn’t a stronger free trading nation in Europe than Great Britain. We’ve been making the case for T-TIP very, very strongly. Prime Minister [David] Cameron never misses an opportunity when he speaks to President Obama to make sure we’re all doing everything we can do to create the right conditions for T-TIP. [The seventh round of T-TIP negotiations begins Monday and runs through Friday in Chevy Chase, Maryland.]

Q. How do you see the European economies shaping up in terms of recovery?

A. The British economy is forging ahead — just as we went through a very deep, a very steep decline, we’re now exiting at pace. We’ll achieve something between 2.4 to 2.7 percent growth in the economy this year. It’s strong, balanced and, we think, sustainable growth. Employment is at an all-time high; inflation is low — in the last six months at or below the target of 2 percent. We are not seeing significant wage/price inflation.

The Eurozone economies are, of course, taking longer to recover and it’s a significant problem for us in the U.K. because still 45 percent of our trade is with Europe. With the right kind of external environment — growth in the United States and growth in the U.K. and elsewhere — then the forecasts are reasonably good for the medium term. But there’s no magical formula for this. There’s a degree of rebalancing required and structural economic reforms.

Q. Why is Panama on your radar?

A. I’m particularly interested in this region for a number of reasons. Power is by and large shifting South and eastwards. Trade will continue to be a driver of global growth and there are some very interesting things happening in terms of growth and some openness in some South and Central American countries. In a sense we also share values, particularly with the Pacific Alliance countries that are broadly like-minded in terms of their commitment to the global trading system. There is no question, from my perspective, that thinking differently about partnerships, how we dispose ourselves, our international presence in these markets is really important.

Panama itself is a really spectacular example of a fast-growing economy with a strong commitment to an open, global trading system. Panama poses some questions about where we put our resources, how we engage in the region. In Britain, we really need to think differently about how we leverage relationships and what will be the new patterns of global trade.

Miami also is interesting to us as we begin to think about how we will engage differently with the Hispanic community. This is an interesting proposition for us as a country that doesn’t really have a lot of history with these types of relationships.

Q. You served as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s director for the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics. Tell me about that.

A. I worked to bring international sporting elements together with international relations and marketing and P.R. I ran a campaign called the GREAT Campaign, which we started in the run-up to the Olympics. It promoted, in a slightly different way, our heritage of sports.

Sports is a really powerful way of connecting.

Q. What happened to your team at the World Cup in Brazil? Expectations were high.

A. It kind of imploded. I was born in 1967 and the last time England won a World Cup was 1966. I’ve gotten used to seeing my team lose on a regular basis. I’ve also got used to exaggerated expectations before major tournaments. I’ve also got used to horrendous soul-searching after major tournaments.

So there’s this curious paradigm that our national team goes out and loses heavily at the World Cup [England was eliminated in the group stage] but back at home we’ve got the most fabulous sporting festival going on week after week with football.

Soccer is very interesting because in a sense it’s a symbol of what’s happening with the British economy. You look at the Premier League and we have 40 percent of the world’s best players playing in Britain. We have three or four of the world’s strongest soccer brands. Soccer is a big international player that connects easily in terms of the relationship between business and culture and sport and it has that international mindset.

We’ve been able to exploit something in the market that wasn’t naturally Britain’s to exploit. Why not German football or Italian football? But there’s no football that’s broken through internationally quite the way British football has. It’s because we’ve been able to synthesize all these things — stadia design, marketing, the ability to think creatively about the passion for sport and excellence. Of all the things we do, we just do this very well.

Andrew Mitchell

Job: Director of prosperity, United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Career: Became director of prosperity October 2012. He also served as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s director for the 2012 London Olympics, Paralympics and the GREAT Campaign, British ambassador to Sweden, and director of the Future Firecrest Programme — the FCO’s desktop system and support services, as well as had diplomatic postings in Kathmandu and Bonn. Joined the British Diplomatic Service in 1991.

Personal: Married with three children, born 1967.