1st March 2012 Washington DC, USA
Economic diplomacy from St James' to San Juan
Last week I took a very belated Christmas holiday to Puerto Rico. It was very lovely…even if it has meant that one particular friend and colleague has sung West Side Story’s “America” (which compares the perceived pros and cons of living in NYC to San Juan) every time we’ve bumped into each other since my return. But hearing the song (over and over!) has got me thinking about how people’s priorities – whatever the decade – really don’t change that much. So much comes down to jobs and the kind of life you that’s on offer (“Automobile in America, Chromium steel in America, Wire-spoke wheel in America, Very big deal in America!”, “Comfort is yours in America, Knobs on the doors in America, Wall-to-wall floors in America.”)
In part it’s this – jobs and quality of living – that’s motivating the current thinking that’s happening about what’s being called economic statecraft here in DC. It all began with a series of speeches which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave last year – and the theme continued in her speech at the Global Business Conference last week. And Jake Sullivan, a superstar of the wonk world in Washington (aka Head of Policy Planning at State), argued in our meeting yesterday that it’s critical that we use diplomacy to achieve economic ends (and indeed find ways of furthering security using economic tools). This has been something which the UK has been doing for a while – ensuring the diplomatic service works to support jobs and growth in the British economy. Trade is a key part of doing this. I’ve always rather liked the way Toby Ziegler in the West Wing set out the benefits of free trade: “Food is cheaper. Clothes are cheaper. Steel is cheaper. Cars are cheaper. Phone service is cheaper. It lowers prices, it raises income. Free trade stops wars.”. We in the UK are keen for the EU and US to find an ambitious ways of liberalising trade – between ourselves and with others – further.
Of course I didn’t find Puerto Rico to be anything like some of the descriptors of in the West Side Story Song (no “hurricanes blowing” for a start!). But it was indeed a “lovely island” “of tropical breezes” with “hundreds [well some, anyway!] of flowers in full bloom”, though alas we were there at the wrong time for “pineapples growing” and “coffee blossoms blowing”. I did, however, consume so many books whilst away that I did the unimaginable – I finished my “to be read” pile. This of course has left me with a compulsive urge to find a bookshop and restock my pile immediately. And what, now I come to think of it, could be more appropriate on World Book Day. If only the Embassy weren’t at the top of a big hill (with no shops around). Time to find a Capital Bikeshare bike…