British ambassador on coronavirus and Brexit

B.Nyamdari

2020-02-21 09:31 GMT+8

The United Kingdom left the European Union in January this year. We had an interview with Mr.Philip Malone, United Kingdom Ambassador about this action, state policy and furthermore regarding coronavirus which has become a big issue around the world.

-The UK became the first member state ever to leave the European Union. What was the main reason for this action?
-Essentially, it started from the referendum in 2016 when the government put the question to the British public, whether to stay in the European Union or leave. The result was a majority voted in favour of leaving the European Union. 

Since then we were negotiating the terms of our departure from the EU. This was finalised in October 2019 and, as you know, we left the EU on January 31 2020. 

More broadly, this is also an opportunity for the UK to strengthen relationships around the world, by being a champion for free trade and being a force for good.

For a number of years there had been a debate in the UK about whether the UK should stay in the EU or leave. As you know, we joined the EU in 1974. Since the early 1990s in particular, there had been a lot of debate about the pros and cons of being in the European Union. Some of the debate was around freedom of movement of people within the European Union, some about access to fisheries and more broadly about sovereign independence.  So there were a number of reasons why people were concerned about membership of the European Union. 

Of course, on the other side, some people thought it was a good idea to be part of the EU trading block and so on. But that is all behind us now as we have had the referendum and we left the EU at the end of January. 

We are clear we want to have a friendly relationship with the EU in future based around free trade with agreements in other areas such as on fisheries and internal security cooperation. On the free trading side, ideally we're looking for something as good as the EU’s existing trade arrangements such as those with Canada or Japan. 

But more broadly, this is also an opportunity for the UK to strengthen relationships around the world, by being a champion for free trade and being a force for good. As you know, the UK is committed to global values such as human rights and fundamental freedoms.

-How could this influence UK economics and politics?
-Well the first thing to say is that we are now in a transition period until the end of 2020. The UK will continue to follow EU rules during that time. But at the same time, we will be negotiating a new arrangement for the future relationship with the EU which we hope will be based around free trading and in a number of other areas as well. So the expectation from the UK side is that we can agree a free trade agreement. Then when it comes to the rest of the world, we will be able to negotiate bilateral trading arrangements with other countries. 

So for example we will start working on a free trade agreement with the United States which is actually the UK's largest single trading partner. At the same time we will look at free trade agreements with other important markets such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand. 

So, by having these new trading arrangements with both the European Union and other partners around the world we believe it will bring even more benefits to the UK economy. What we're hoping for is that within the next 3 years, we will have new trading arrangements that will cover around 80 percent of UK trade. So that's the kind of expectation on which we are working.

-Will this decision influence relations between the UK and Mongolia?
-Certainly. In the shorter term, the UK will strengthen its international relationships working with lots of partners around the world such as Mongolia. In time, perhaps in a few more years, we might be able to start discussions about some economic trade arrangement with Mongolia. 

We will have a UK trade preference scheme which is basically the same as the EU’s GSP+ trade arrangement from which Mongolia currently benefits.

But that will be a little bit further into the future because at the moment we're focusing on a new agreement with the EU and some other partners as I mentioned. So that's one thing for the future. In the meantime and at the end of this year, when the transition period is completed, we will have a UK trade preference scheme which is basically the same as the EU’s GSP+ trade arrangement from which Mongolia currently benefits.

So we will have a UK arrangement, something very similar which will come into force from January next year. So we will be able to look at new ways of strengthening our relationship with Mongolia.

One area we're focusing on this year in particular is climate change, as the UK will host the CoP 26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November. We really want to use this opportunity to have countries around the world increase their commitments to reducing carbon emissions and ideally move towards net zero carbon emissions as the UK is doing. We have committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

So, we want to use this conference to encourage and push the world as much as we can to reduce their emissions. We can collectively achieve the target of keeping global warming to below 2 degrees which was the commitment made at the Paris Summit 5 years ago.  That is something we will be pushing hard this year. Obviously, for Mongolia it's particularly important because climate change is having stronger impacts in Mongolia than some other countries as the average temperature has already risen above 2 degrees. This is having an impact on the grazing lands and on herders around the country. So, we are working very closely with the Mongolian authorities on these issues during this year. 

-Recently, Mongolian companies participated in the UK Department for International Trade’s Eastern Europe and Central Asian Network UK Roadshow to cooperate with British companies. What was the result of this event?
-It was very good. We had a number of Mongolian companies taking part and there were companies from other parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia as well. We looked at a number of different market sectors and interestingly one of the things that came out from this visit was that for the Midlands region of the UK, Mongolia is their largest export market. Primarily, this is because they produce a lot of engineering products which go into the mining sector. So I think it is a good example of the strength of the trading relationship between our two countries. With these visits it enables Mongolian companies to increase their partnerships with the UK. 

The UK and other countries are supporting this as much as we can as it's in all our interests to ensure Mongolia comes off the grey list. 

We're doing a similar trade mission this March in the food and beverage sector. That’s another area we want to see stronger collaboration between our two countries.

-You mentioned in your previous interview that UK companies are interested in the cashmere sector of Mongolia. Were there any Mongolian cashmere companies during this recent trade event?
-Not on this trip. It was more focused on energy, engineering and the mining sector. So there wasn't anything specifically on cashmere. But there is a lot of collaboration between the UK and Mongolia on cashmere. And the preferential trade arrangements I mentioned earlier will continue to benefit the cashmere sector in future. 

-How did the UK vote for Mongolia before inclusion on the grey list? And how will the UK support Mongolia to get out of the grey list?
-Well, there wasn't any formal voting process. The way the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) works is that the members have discussions and then come to a decision about whether a country should or should not be grey listed. So it's a collective decision by the FATF. The important thing is that Mongolia is now working very hard to come off the list.

In fact, just earlier this week, I had a meeting with the new Chairman of the Financial Regulatory Commission and I was really pleased to see the progress they have been making. There was a review meeting in Beijing around two weeks ago and the outcome of that meeting was very positive. The assessors felt Mongolia had made some very good progress since October. The UK and other countries are supporting this as much as we can as it's in all our interests to ensure Mongolia comes off the grey list. 

-What kind of work has the Embassy been focusing on in last few months?
-We are continuing to promote trade and investment between our two countries. In September we had a major education event, the “InspireMe” festival where we were showcasing UK education. This included a visit by the Cambridge Assessment International Education people who are running Cambridge programs in a number of schools in Mongolia. That’s something we have been working on to expand the program further in Mongolia. The Education Ministry is interested in doing that.

Mongolian government is to be commended for the good work they have been doing and as we know there have been no cases so far in Mongolia. 

You might know that the Education Minister visited London just recently in January for the World Education Forum. He also had meetings with the Cambridge education people. More generally, we are continuing to develop our relationship in a number of areas such as on foreign policy issues, in defence and so on. 

-My last question is about the coronavirus outbreak which is now a big issue around the world. What precautionary actions have you been taking with your employees?
-Well, we are doing as much as other organisations, ensuring that if any of us are not feeling well we stay at home until feeling better. Here in the office we are washing hands regularly and using sanitizers and masks. For our British citizens both in Mongolia and elsewhere, we are keeping our travel advice for Mongolia updated. We are also in contact with the Mongolian government, the WHO and other embassies to make sure we are aligned with the positions they are taking. 

So far, I think the Mongolian government is to be commended for the good work they have been doing and as we know there have been no cases so far in Mongolia. Hopefully, that will remain the case. But we are watching the situation closely and depending on what happens we will take action as appropriate. 

-There have been nine coronavirus cases were in the UK. What kind of action is the UK taking on the coronavirus?
-Those people who have been infected or been in contact with infected people are going into quarantine. For example, we had two evacuation flights from Wuhan, China which brought around 200 people back to the UK. So they went into quarantine for a two week period.

Essentially, with the cases we've had we're tracking the contacts they have had to ensure other people have not been infected by the virus as well. And rather like Mongolia, there is lots of public advice about hand washing and so on. Fortunately, we haven't had too many cases just yet. But our health services are very well prepared for the virus should it become much larger scale.

-Thank you so much for the interview.

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