Mark was asked to speak at the UK Trade Partnership Conference on building strong bilateral links in the tech industry between the UK and Pakistan.
Thank you for inviting me to speak today and as a fanatical football fan may I first congratulate the organisers on the choice of location. For those of you who don’t know, I am the Member of Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster and in the absence of a genuinely local team I am delighted to welcome you to the home of the current Premier League leaders [and this season’s likely champions – a completely unbiased prediction, of course.] I am just glad that the people of central London don’t change their MP as often as Chelsea change their football manager!
But when I think of the UK’s sporting ties to Pakistan, football doesn’t naturally spring to mind. I think of our closely intertwined history; the vibrant Pakistani diaspora totalling over a million British citizens; and, of course, cricket. 5 years after independence in 1952, just a few miles north of here at Lord’s Cricket ground, Pakistan was first given Test Match status. When winning the Cricket World Cup forty years later, captain Imran Khan famously galvanised his talented, but mercurial, team by imploring them to play like “cornered tigers.” He wanted them to fulfil their long-held potential, and it worked. And that’s why we are all here today. To unearth, recognise and seek ways of fulfilling the potential of the UK’s and Pakistan’s trading relationship, particularly around technology.
In that light, I want to make 3 points. First, the UK will build on our already strong trade relationship with Pakistan. Secondly, the UK Government will not only continue to develop our own technology sector, we will help UK companies grasp the growing opportunities in Pakistan. And finally, we will ensure that, post Brexit, the UK remains the most innovative, tech savvy country – a place that the world, and in particular Pakistan, increasingly looks to when doing business. Our bilateral trading ties are already strong, with our trade in goods up 6% and the share of Pakistan’s exports to the UK increasing to 7.4%. We are Pakistan’s second largest investor, with UK companies having poured in more than $2billion over the past decade. And more than 120 British companies are already active in the country, from household names such as Debenhams, Next and Mothercare to the world’s largest Toni and Guy hair salon. And away from the high street, London’s own Standard Charter is the second largest provider of Islamic Finance in Pakistan.
This is a promising foundation from which to build and in technology, we have an opportunity to create even stronger ties. The UK is a world leading tech hub and a fantastic place to start any business, but particularly in technology. Let me explain why. With 58,000 digital technology business throughout the UK, this sector is growing 32% faster than the rest of the UK economy and already boasts an annual turnover of £160billion. We are the largest data centre market in Europe. We have fantastic connectivity speeds, including some of the fastest in Europe, and our broadband service is comfortably in the world’s top ten. Canary Wharf has helped give birth to a booming financial technology scene, with a workforce of nearly 61,000 people and a national turnover of £20billion. And we are leading the world in making our cities smarter – an ambition that stands to benefit both the UK and Pakistan. Lahore, the IT capital of Pakistan, is one of the top 20 most populous cities in the world; indeed if the Punjab was a nation in its own right, it would be the 11th most highly populated. With 70% of the world’s citizens projected to be living in urban areas by 2050, we must redesign our cities to mitigate problems caused by urbanisation, resource depletion and demographic change. There is much expertise and support we can offer Pakistan’s tech sector, but we can learn much too. Let’s take the IT industry. Pakistan’s IT exports have increased by more than elevenfold over the last decade.
With more than 2000 software houses and call centres at present, Pakistan’s IT industry is now a well-established – boasting many of the world’s largest companies amongst their clients. Pakistan’s technology companies are winning International Awards in areas such as e-learning, e-health and financial applications. Its mobile app, gaming, and animation development industries are breaking new ground. We’ve all heard of Game of Thrones – one of the most watched TV shows anywhere in the world. Especially amongst my parliamentary colleagues. But how many of us know that its iconic title animation sequence was produced by Hameed Shaukat, a US-born Pakistani designer?
And we are seeing Pakistani companies, such as NetSol Technologies – the only NASDAQ listed company in Pakistan – and SI Global Solutions establishing a presence in the UK, bringing their expertise to bear. Financial technology is another genuine area for UK-Pakistan collaboration. Earlier this year, the Lord Mayor of London visited Karachi to seek ways in which we can use the City of London’s world leading expertise to support this burgeoning sector in Pakistan.
Karachi – Pakistan’s financial hub – is an ideal environment for ambitious start-ups looking for investment and the latest technology. The potential for growth is staggering. The number of Pakistan’s adults who have a mobile bank account greatly exceeds the South Asia average, not to mention mobile phone penetration at 60% and over half the population being under 25 years of age. I want to see the UK and Pakistan working together, sharing expertise and ensuring we build a digital economy that allows our businesses to flourish and our consumers to become empowered.
Before I finish, I just wanted to talk about what the UK government is doing to support the tech industry, but also promote trade more widely with global partners post brexit. Please be assured that leaving the EU doesn’t change our ambition or commitment to the UK’s technology sector. £16billion worth of investment has poured into the UK since the referendum. Over recent months the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Snap have announced expansion in the UK. Dyson recently announced last week plans to build a £2.5bn research and development campus in Wiltshire. The reasons shouldn’t surprise anyone in this room. The UK has a low tax, light regulation economy underpinned by a widely respected commercial legal system; we have three of the top ten universities in the world feeding a highly skilled workforce; and of the G7 countries, the UK has the most productive science base and we rank first in many key global measures of research quality.
We know that access to talent is hugely important for the tech industry. We want to remain one of the most open global economies: a magnet for the brightest and best talent from around the world. We also know the tech sector is highly integrated in Europe, which is why we are aiming for the greatest possible access to the Single Market. But we have to see the opportunity beyond Europe. Brexit gives us the ability to strike trading agreements global partners. The International Trade department has singled out Pakistan as a key country with which to do business.
I am delighted that the Government is increasing its trade team in Pakistan to help British businesses realise the burgeoning potential there. The MSCI (Morgan Stanley Capital International) uprating to Emerging Market status, coupled with the demographics – a growing middle class of around 40 million people – means we are focusing on trade with Pakistan more than ever before. And we will continue to engage at the political level. In fact this week, trade ministers from the 52 Commonwealth countries are gathering in London to discuss amongst other things, how we can boost trade amongst the network and raise the standard of living for our 2.2 billion population. The Prime Minister has been clear. She wants the UK to become the greatest advocate for free trade anywhere in the world. In this endeavour, the UK will look all like-minded partners, such as Pakistan, who see trade as the best vehicle for stability and prosperity
In conclusion, I want to reiterate that the UK’s and Pakistan’s bilateral relationship is not just strong, but rooted in cultural and historical significance. Across British commerce, sport and film, Pakistan is increasingly making its presence felt. Even in politics: the mayor of this great city, Sadiq Khan, is – in case you had not heard- the son of a Pakistani bus driver. That in itself captures the uniqueness of our relationship. On trade, the watchword is potential. As a growing, dynamic market with a young globally minded population – Pakistan offers UK companies fantastic opportunity in one of the most geo-strategic points on the globe. In the technology sector, I passionately want a sharing of expertise and a commitment to work together to ensure our respective economies meet the demands of a constantly evolving digital economy.
The will is there and now so is the opportunity. Let’s seize it