Monday, August 11, 2014

UK envoy upbeat about oldest allies

 Jill Gallard, who has just completed her three-year tenure as the UK’s Ambassador to Lisbon, says that while  Portugal still faces formidable economic problems, in some ways the country is better off than when she first arrived.
Mrs Gallard gave us a cogent appraisal of the current state of affairs just before leaving for London to take up her new post at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office as Human Resources director.
She arrived in Portugal in the summer of 2011, six weeks after the €78 billion bailout package had been agreed and a month after the present Government took office.  
“So it felt like crisis time to all of us back then, not just for Portugal but for several eurozone countries,” she recalled.
“The adjustment has been a painful process and many Portuguese - with the support of their extended family ties - are still suffering the impact of austerity measures. But the fact that Portugal made a clean exit from the bailout in May this year was obviously a huge milestone and an important success.
“Growth and exports figures have risen since 2011, unemployment is falling, the deficit has been cut significantly and many structural reforms implemented. All of this is vital to attract more inward investment.
“So in many ways things feel much better than in summer 2011. However, we all know that the economic problems are not over – neither in Portugal nor the rest of the EU. Many EU countries have a high level of debt which will have to be tackled.
“The new President of the European Commission has made clear that achieving sustainable growth and reducing unemployment – especially youth unemployment – have to be the priorities for Europe in the next period. That is the next challenge for all of us,” said Mrs Gallard.
In terms of bilateral relations, Portugal and Britain have a shared objective on EU economic reform so that Europe can tackle the huge challenge of achieving sustainable growth, better competitiveness and therefore reduced unemployment, she said.
“We both strongly support the proposed Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership. We have had a steady stream of ministerial visits in both directions, and this always helps to promote greater synergy between our two Governments.”
She also noted that Prime Minister Cameron and his family have holidayed in this country on two successive years and that the UK makes a significant contribution to the Portuguese economy through the large number of other British visitors – 2.1 million last year and rising.
In terms of commercial relations, Mrs Gallard’s team at the Embassy in Lisbon have exceeded their bilateral trade and investment targets for the third consecutive year, despite the eurozone crisis and tough austerity measures in both countries.  
“In 2013/14 we helped British companies gain €35 million of business in Portugal and supported 400 small and medium sized enterprises seeking business in this country. British companies are increasingly interested in using Portugal as a platform to the Lusophone world, and we’ve worked hard on raising awareness about Portugal’s extensive links with Angola, Mozambique and Brazil so that British and Portuguese companies can partner to gain access to those markets.”
As members of the European Union, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, NATO and the United Nations, the UK and Portugal work together in many multilateral fora, usually with the same shared objectives in mind.  
A further sign of the close links between the two countries was the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s decision to choose Lisbon as the hub for human resources activities for 43 diplomatic posts across Europe. The team in Lisbon is currently being expanded by some 30% to reflect that.
“Part of the reason for the choice of Lisbon is that there is a highly skilled, multilingual workforce in Portugal.” said Mrs Gallard.   
Her job before becoming Ambassador to Portugal was the FCO’s deputy director of human resources. She has now been appointed director of the department, which has a global workforce of 13,000 based in 165 countries.
Her successor as Ambassador in Lisbon will be Mrs Kirsty Isobel Hayes, who is expected to arrive at the end of the month. 

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