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British undersecretary encourages Florida trade

In a global economic crisis, you reach out to your friends. Thus, a British foreign undersecretary visited Miami last week to woo Florida's business community.

Just as part of Florida's recovery plan hinges on exports, so does the United Kingdom's. Henry Bellingham, 55, became an undersecretary in May with responsibilities for Africa, the United Nations, global economic issues, climate change, overseas territories and relations with British business. "Our agenda is very pro-business," Bellingham said.

That means encouraging British businesses in Florida, and Florida businesses in Britain. He spoke with the Times on his way to the airport, off to Turks & Caicos and Anguilla, then the U.N. General Assembly.

What tips would you have for Florida entrepreneurs wanting to do business in the U.K.?

I think the most important advice I give is, obviously, have a very close look at which particular market you want to enter into, and try and find a U.K. partner. I think the most important, really good due diligence and background research is essential. But I think any Florida business coming to the U.K. will find a shared culture.

Is Florida still a prime destination for British tourists?

Yes, absolutely. … The pound has been relatively weak for the last three to four years, but it has picked up a bit recently, and so that makes it easier for U.K. tourists coming to Florida.

There are 400,000 Brits in this part of America, a huge number. A lot of them retired, a lot own homes here, quite a few working here, so there's a massive British community in this part of America. I think it's one reason why Florida's such an important trade partner for Britain.

The combined trade between Britain and Florida is over $2.5 billion, which is huge. In fact, we have more trade with Florida than we do with virtually every African country. … Britain is now the No. 1 foreign investor into Florida.

Are Britons looking to invest in Florida housing after the drop in prices that we've had here?

Yes. The U.K. economy is now in recovery mode. We're coming out of recession. We've had three quarters of growth.

I think that a lot of Brits like the idea of coming to Florida because people are very welcoming, you have a fantastic climate, you have a legal system that is very favorable and robust. I think that a lot of Brits in the past have invested in Spain and places like that, but they've had some unhappy experiences in terms of property rights and that sort of thing. …

And I think people love the diversity of Florida. It's the gateway to Latin America. … I'm sure there will be more and more British people using this as not just a holiday destination, but as a property investment destination and maybe a retirement destination, as well.

Has the distress over the BP oil spill harmed relations or perception of Americans?

The point is that BP is a truly global, international company. It has investors worldwide. The Florida state pension fund is an investor in BP. It's no one's interest that BP lose its financial credibility, because it needs that financial muscle and credibility to pay its part in the cleanup. And it's committed to doing that. BP's No. 1 priority at the moment is to pay its part in the cleanup operation.

You had mentioned the U.K. is now the No. 1 foreign direct investor in Florida. What can the state do to encourage further investment?

I think there are two areas that we're going to want to specialize in in the future. One is universities. Manchester Business School has just opened a new campus in Miami, which is very exciting. And furthermore, the U.K., we're the leading European country in the space sector, and there's going to be a lot of interest, I think, among U.K. space companies in opportunities in Florida. Those are two examples where I think you're going to see growth in the future, and U.K. investment in Miami and Florida.

By the numbers

330 United Kingdom businesses in Florida

42,500 Number of workers in Florida employed by those businesses

400,000 Britons living in Florida

$2.5B Combined trade between Britain and Florida

Source: Henry Bellingham, parliamentary undersecretary of state at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office

British undersecretary encourages Florida trade 09/28/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 7:09am]
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