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U.K. ambassador to the U.S. visits Puerto Rico

Announces plans to close British Consulate in San Juan


February 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Sir David Manning, ambassador to the U.S. from the United Kingdom’s Great Britain (U.K.) was in Puerto Rico recently as part of a series of official visits throughout the nation. "I am here basically, for my own education. I’m very conscious that if you’re the ambassador to the U.S. you shouldn’t sit in Washington all the time. It’s very easy to become the ambassador to D.C. rather than the ambassador to the U.S. These initials are very different and they have very different implications," Ambassador Manning stated.

"So, I try to get around the U.S., as much as I possibly can, and I was very keen on coming to Puerto Rico. I wanted to see for myself the work that’s going on here," the ambassador added.

The ambassador announced during his visit to CARIBBEAN BUSINESS that for reasons that have to do with budgetary constraints, the United Kingdom Trade & Investment (UKTI) is reorganizing the way it does business and will be closing the British Consulate Office in Puerto Rico.

"This doesn’t fill me with anything except gloom. I’m very sorry about it. I’m very conscious of how much Patricia Tully Martínez [Vice Consul in Puerto Rico} has done, and we are all very conscious of the importance of this market. This doesn’t reflect anything on Puerto Rico. It’s throughout all of North America that the UKTI is reorganizing its business." U.K. Trade & Investment is the government organization that supports British companies doing business internationally, and overseas enterprises seeking to set up or expand in the U.K.

Puerto Rico is the largest exporter to the U.K. market in the Caribbean, and the fourth-largest in comparison to all of Latin America. According to Puerto Rico Planning Board figures, trade between Puerto Rico and the U.K. was $676 million in 2003 ($271 million exported from Puerto Rico to the U.K. and $405 million from the U.K. to Puerto Rico). Worldwide, Puerto Rico is listed among the top-50 largest export markets for the U.K.

"I don’t know how we will cover ourselves in Puerto Rico because the director general for UKTI in North America, Sir Philip Thomas, who runs the operations out of New York, will be coming here shortly to talk to Patricia and decide how UKTI will organize their whole network across North America in the future," Ambassador Manning said. "They have these very tight budgets and must rethink the way they do business. But in no way, as in other places where we have had to close offices, does it mean there is a lack of interest or commitment."

British commercial involvement in Puerto Rico is primarily in the healthcare and pharmaceuticals production. AstraZeneca, which operates in Canóvanas as IPR Pharmaceuticals, is the largest British firm on the island with a total investment of more than $600 million. Overall, the U.K. reportedly has over $2 billion invested in Puerto Rico. The island is considered of major importance to British companies because of its unique position as a part of the U.S. and the gateway to the rest of the Caribbean and North America.

"We see Puerto Rico as an area of great opportunity and one of the fascinating things about my trip from Washington is to come to the Caribbean and see what is going on here. To witness for myself the vitality in the region, particularly in Puerto Rico. I’m struck by what’s going on here and the statistics I see," commented the ambassador. "I can see that this is an area with huge potential, and there are many things going on here, tourism being a very obvious one. I’m very conscious, however, that Puerto Rico isn’t just a tourist destination. I see pharmaceutical companies, the airport, infrastructure projects; these are all areas where we can do a lot together."

According to information obtained by CARIBBEAN BUSINESS from Jo LeGood, vice consul of the British Consulate General in Atlanta, the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station presents an excellent investment site for the U.K. British companies are interested in the proposals for development in Roosevelt Roads, says the vice consul.

British citizens residing in Puerto Rico will be able to obtain services from the Consular General Office in Atlanta and from the Consulate in Miami. "We will have people who are directly responsible for Puerto Rico in both posts. What we will have to decide is what sort of representation we’re going to have here in Puerto Rico," Manning stated. "I can’t prejudge this until my colleague from UKTI has been here. He is going to be deciding how this whole pattern fits across North America. However, you can be quite sure we will take all sorts of measures to make sure we have proper coverage."

U.K.’s international outlook

Ambassador Manning projects tremendous growth potential for the U.K. within the growing European Union. "The last year was a very exciting year for the European Union (EU) because of it growth. We now have 25 countries in the EU. And they stretch right away from the Atlantic, as far as the Russian border. Britain has always wanted the EU to grow, to be an outward looking Europe, and we pushed very hard over a long period for the expansion of the EU."

The government of the U.K. is one of the major supporters in Europe of the Bush administration and the war effort in Iraq. Manning believes the recent election in Iraq was a very important moment and a chance for the Iraqis to show what they really want, an opportunity to express themselves through the democratic process and choose their own leaders.

"Whatever government is now formed in Iraq, it will have the legitimacy of being elected by the people. This is not an appointed government. The Iraqis will have a huge task and we hope to see this transitional government draft a constitution. This is going to occur against the backdrop of security issues," Manning says. "So there are, I think, three things currently going on Iraq. There is politics, the issue of security, and the rebuilding of the country. It’s a very big task, and one that is very difficult, but I think the elections have been a very important moment in turning this into a new phase. Now is the time to move forward, we’ve got the elections behind us."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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