The real significance of the US cables leak

The leaks tell us little we didn’t know already but have exposed the limits of confidentiality.

Cut through some of the hype about a "world diplomatic crisis", and the truth is that so far little of note has emerged from the US cables leak. The news that Saudi Arabia wants the US to bomb Iran (the region's rival superpower) should come as a surprise to no one.

Elsewhere, we learn that the US believes Silvio Berlusconi is "vain", that Angela Merkel is "risk-averse" and that Nicolas Sarkozy is "thin-skinned". Who doesn't? Similarly, the revelation that the US and the UK have "grave fears" over the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme hardly sets the pulse racing.

As with the MPs' expenses scandal, the best may be still to come, but I'm yet to be surprised by anything I've read (the first 63 cables are available here).

Instead, what's significant about the leak is that it happened at all. As Simon Jenkins points out, it proves that "an electronic secret is a contradiction in terms". Allies and foes of the Americans alike will be alarmed that the US government allowed this to happen.

That the material was made available to no fewer than three million government employees (it was not classified "top secret"), one of whom allegedly copied a selection on to a fake Lady Gaga CD, will surely prompt a rethink in Washington. Unless governments are to revert to an era of pre-digital diplomacy, however, embarrassment is the price they'll have to pay for the foreseeable future.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

A global marketplace: the internet represents exporting’s biggest opportunity

The advent of the internet age has made the whole world a single marketplace. Selling goods online through digital means offers British businesses huge opportunities for international growth. The UK was one of the earliest adopters of online retail platforms, and UK online sales revenues are growing at around 20 per cent each year, not just driving wider economic growth, but promoting the British brand to an enthusiastic audience.

Global e-commerce turnover grew at a similar rate in 2014-15 to over $2.2trln. The Asia-Pacific region, for example, is embracing e-marketplaces with 28 per cent growth in 2015 to over $1trln of sales. This demonstrates the massive opportunities for UK exporters to sell their goods more easily to the world’s largest consumer markets. My department, the Department for International Trade, is committed to being a leader in promoting these opportunities. We are supporting UK businesses in identifying these markets, and are providing access to services and support to exploit this dramatic growth in digital commerce.

With the UK leading innovation, it is one of the responsibilities of government to demonstrate just what can be done. My department is investing more in digital services to reach and support many more businesses, and last November we launched our new digital trade hub: www.great.gov.uk. Working with partners such as Lloyds Banking Group, the new site will make it easier for UK businesses to access overseas business opportunities and to take those first steps to exporting.

The ‘Selling Online Overseas Tool’ within the hub was launched in collaboration with 37 e-marketplaces including Amazon and Rakuten, who collectively represent over 2bn online consumers across the globe. The first government service of its kind, the tool allows UK exporters to apply to some of the world’s leading overseas e-marketplaces in order to sell their products to customers they otherwise would not have reached. Companies can also access thousands of pounds’ worth of discounts, including waived commission and special marketing packages, created exclusively for Department for International Trade clients and the e-exporting programme team plans to deliver additional online promotions with some of the world’s leading e-marketplaces across priority markets.

We are also working with over 50 private sector partners to promote our Exporting is GREAT campaign, and to support the development and launch of our digital trade platform. The government’s Exporting is GREAT campaign is targeting potential partners across the world as our export trade hub launches in key international markets to open direct export opportunities for UK businesses. Overseas buyers will now be able to access our new ‘Find a Supplier’ service on the website which will match them with exporters across the UK who have created profiles and will be able to meet their needs.

With Lloyds in particular we are pleased that our partnership last year helped over 6,000 UK businesses to start trading overseas, and are proud of our association with the International Trade Portal. Digital marketplaces have revolutionised retail in the UK, and are now connecting consumers across the world. UK businesses need to seize this opportunity to offer their products to potentially billions of buyers and we, along with partners like Lloyds, will do all we can to help them do just that.

Taken from the New Statesman roundtable supplement Going Digital, Going Global: How digital skills can help any business trade internationally

0800 7318496