Global Business

America Is Still the Land of Opportunity for British Tech Stars

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The history of the 21st century’s gold rush will be written in binary code, and nowhere is the tech and innovation boom louder, more Richter scaling than in the United States. This is why America, to entrepreneurs the world over, remains the land of opportunity. 

Emerson’s line “hitch your wagon to a star” should be the heading on every memo to tech companies looking west for their first steps abroad, for every star on that famous spangl’d banner has its own unique appeal. If you’re in the life sciences sector, your star might be Pennsylvania or Massachusetts. The Pacific Northwest is a great destination for companies specializing in innovative software and hardware or digital design. California is great for gaming and software development, while for many, New York sets the pace in lifestyle, financial tech and media companies

I’m lucky, as the British consul general in New York, to live in the beating heart of one of the biggest, most diverse tech ecosystems. I also head the UK Trade & Investment team for the whole of the United States, so it’s my great privilege to see how things are done elsewhere in the country too. This organization serves the British government’s foreign commercial arm, helping British companies expand overseas and encouraging foreign direct investment into the United Kingdom.

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America is the United Kingdom's top export destination for a reason: It’s the world’s largest market. Compared with what's the case in many many countries, the barriers to entry in the United States are low and the rewards potentially staggering. The U.S. has an enormous, well-educated workforce, many of whom have studied at the world’s top universities (three-quarters of them are on American soil, after all). It’s a country that’s retained its entrepreneurial spirit and a love of adventure that allow for good ideas to catch the wind and take to the skies. 

Naturally, there are challenges that British tech entrepreneurs and startups face when they expand westward. America’s 50 states are sometimes like 50 independent markets, such are the vast regulatory and cultural differences between them. Living and business costs in some of the biggest tech hubs -- particularly New York and San Francisco -- can skyrocket. Legal issues can be tricky to sort out, as can visas. The United States is also extremely competitive. I strive to ensure these British tech companies don’t enter already saturated markets and that they have a robust strategy in place when they touch down. They need to know where they’re going, literally and figuratively.

I hope that the latest negotiations toward a comprehensive free trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP), would make it even easier for British companies to do business in the States. There aren’t many tariffs remaining, but much-needed work remains to be done on intellectual property, information- and communications-technology regulation, ecommerce, data flows and technical barriers to trade. Part of the agreement will address issues impeding cross-border ecommerce. To date, both sides have exchanged analysis on specific topics including e-health, encryption, e-accessibility, enforcement and e-labeling. 

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The transatlantic economy is already a major driver of jobs, growth and innovation. Already, 13 million people are employed as a result of European Union-U.S. trade and investment. Indeed, many people I meet are surprised to learn there isn’t already free trade between us. The TTIP would fix that and would create new markets and expand existing ones. The agreement could allow businesses to increase production and hire more staff. And it could expand consumer choice and lower prices. 

All this could become a major plus for internationally minded entrepreneurs. The TTIP has the potential to be the biggest ever bilateral trade agreement. It could add $125 billion to the U.S. economy and create almost 750,000 jobs and it may help the rest of the world, too, adding almost $130 billion to economies outside the E.U. and the States.

Delivering this benefit requires ambition. Negotiators on both sides aim to go further than what's been done for any existing free trade agreement, not only seeking to eliminate the vast majority of tariffs but also working to create common rules and greater regulatory compatibility. They are working on new and emerging aspects of trade, discussing opportunities from ecommerce and telecommunications through customs procedures, a chapter dedicated to the needs of small business and efforts to remove unnecessary regulatory duplication, all while retaining high labor, environmental and safety standards.

If the U.S. and E.U. together can seize this opportunity, the standards we would set together -- in line with our common values -- could become the global standards, resulting in fewer barriers, simpler rules and larger markets. These are complex negotiations. But the case is simply this: With U.S.-E.U. trade worth almost $3 billion every day -- or one third of all world trade -- can we afford to not adopt the TTIP?

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Right now the United Kingdom and the United States have a trillion dollars invested in each other’s economies. Part of that can be attributed to the support the U.K. government offers American companies looking to move to Britain. Last year my country launched the GREAT Tech Awards, a competition that grants U.S. tech firms a chance to take a week-long business-development trip to the United Kingdom.  

What does Britain offers American startups? The United Kingdom leads Europe in software and IT services, with a market value of £58 billion. In London alone, 27 percent of new jobs are in the tech and digital sectors, which employ more than half a million people there. The contribution of the Internet economy to GDP is growing 11 percent a year. The British government has put technological innovation at the heart of its growth strategy over the last few years and has opened its borders to talented entrepreneurs with new visa schemes.  

The tech traffic between our great nations will help both countries. I hope for a strong, far-reaching TTIP agreement will make it even easier for companies to move between the two. Economies driven by ideas are the success stories of the future. As British companies hitch their wagons to the stars, we hope American startups will continue to see in our green and pleasant land the seeds of runaway international success.

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