On 23 May 2024, the House of Lords is due to debate the following motion:

Lord Popat (Conservative) to move that this House takes note of the role of trade envoys in promoting trade and economic growth.

1. What are trade envoys?

The prime minister’s trade envoys are parliamentarians appointed to engage with markets in countries where the UK government has identified trade and investment opportunities.[1] Trade envoys have various responsibilities, including:[2]

  • undertaking planned programmes of engagement with their market, including UK and overseas activity
  • committing to a minimum of two overseas trips per financial year, in addition to ad hoc engagements in the UK such as hosting dignitaries and delegations from their markets
  • receiving briefings on their respective markets and government priorities which they must reflect when performing their role
  • providing the government with updates on their activities

The prime minister’s trade envoy programme first began in 2012. Whilst trade envoys are personally appointed by the prime minister, the programme is managed by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT). Trade envoys’ day-to-day activities are managed by the DBT, with role holders reporting directly to the secretary of state for business and trade. Trade envoys are assigned relationship managers who coordinate trade envoy activities and ensure they are aligned to government policies and objectives.

The role of trade envoy is a voluntary position, with appointments running for the duration of a parliament or until there is a change of prime minister. Each post holder is free to relinquish their role at any time.

Trade envoys are unpaid, with travel and expenses met by the DBT or reimbursed. According to the terms of reference for trade envoys, expenses must be “pre-arranged”, “reasonable” and “directly associated” with trade envoy activities.[3] There should also be a “clear business need” for any expenses incurred, which should be approved by the DBT before bookings are made or engagements committed to. All travel should also be “proportionate and appropriate and should demonstrate best value for money to the [DBT] for use of public money”.

Trade envoys do not have responsibility for trade negotiations in their markets. They also do not have any policy responsibility, with policy decisions remaining with government ministers. The trade envoy terms of reference states that post holders are not bound by collective responsibility.[4] However, they are expected to support the government’s position when acting in their capacity as trade envoy and “not be a vocal critic of the government’s international trade policy more broadly”.

The trade envoy terms of reference also sets out some reporting mechanisms. For example, trade envoys should be asked to attend meetings with, and provide updates on their activity to, the DBT. Trade envoys are also required to inform their relationship manager of all trade and investment meetings with companies, trade organisations and external stakeholders. This is to enable relationship managers to “register it as an activity for evaluation purposes” amongst other things.[5] Additionally, overseas posts have a responsibility to provide feedback to the trade envoy and the DBT on “successes or outcomes as a result of trade envoy involvement”. This is to enable the relevant DBT teams to provide feedback to the Prime Minister’s Office and the secretary of state on the value of the programme.

According to the government, the overall purpose of trade envoys is to:[6]

[…] support the drive for economic growth by building on the UK’s existing relations with these markets and help UK businesses take advantage of the opportunities arising from [the UK’s] global trade agenda. In addition, [trade envoys] champion global Britain and promote the UK as a destination of choice for inward investment across all regions of the UK, helping to level up the country.

2. Who are the current trade envoys and which markets has the government appointed them to?

The government maintains a list of the prime minister’s trade envoys.[7] As of 16 May 2024, there were 35 trade envoys covering 58 markets. The 35 post holders are made up of parliamentarians from both Houses:

  • 23 are members of the House of Commons (20 Conservative MPs and three Labour MPs)
  • 12 are members of the House of Lords (six Conservative peers, one Labour, two Crossbench and three non-affiliated)

The list of trade envoys at the time of writing is set out in table 1 below:

Table 1. List of trade envoys as of 16 May 2024[8]

Trade envoy Region/market
Andrew Selous (Conservative MP for south-west Bedfordshire) South Africa, Mauritius
Baroness Meyer (Conservative) Ukraine
Baroness Morris of Bolton (Conservative) Jordan, Kuwait and Palestine Territories
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Conservative) Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan
Baroness Hoey (non-affiliated) Ghana
Dame Maria Miller (Conservative MP for Basingstoke) Canada
Dan Carden (Labour MP for Liverpool, Walton) Mexico
Daniel Kawczynski (Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham) Mongolia
David Mundell (Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) New Zealand
Gareth Johnson (Conservative MP for Dartford) United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Greg Clark (Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells) Japan
Heather Wheeler (Conservative MP for South Derbyshire) Cambodia and Laos
Helen Grant (Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald) Nigeria
James Daly (Conservative MP for Bury North) Pakistan
Laurence Robertson (Conservative MP for Tewkesbury) Ethiopia
Lord Austin of Dudley (non-affiliated) Israel
Lord Botham (Crossbench) Australia
Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Labour) Taiwan
Lord Davies of Abersoch (non-affiliated)* Sri Lanka
Lord Popat (Conservative) Uganda and Rwanda (watching brief Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Lord Risby (Conservative) Algeria, Lebanon
Lord Sarfraz (Conservative) Singapore
Lord Walney (Crossbench) Tanzania
Marco Longhi (Conservative MP for Dudley North) Brazil
Mark Garnier (Conservative MP for Wyre Forest) Thailand, Myanmar, Brunei, Vietnam
Martin Vickers (Conservative MP for Cleethorpes) Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia
Richard Graham (Conservative MP for Gloucester) Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, ASEAN
Rob Butler (Conservative MP for Aylesbury) Morocco
Sir Conor Burns (Conservative MP for Bournemouth West) USA (for regional trade and investment)
Sir John Whittingdale (Conservative MP for Maldon) The Republic of Korea
Sir Stephen Timms (Labour MP for East Ham) Liechtenstein, Switzerland
Stephen Metcalfe (Conservative MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock) Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica
Theo Clarke (Conservative MP for Stafford) Kenya
Tom Hunt (Conservative MP for Ipswich) Bangladesh
Yvonne Fovargue (Labour MP for Makerfield) Libya, Tunisia

*on leave of absence from the House of Lords at the time of writing

3. What scrutiny has the trade envoy programme received?

The government’s approach to measuring the effectiveness of trade envoys, in addition to other aspects of the trade envoy programme, was the subject of scrutiny by the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee in 2020.

In February 2020, the committee wrote to the government seeking clarity on the following areas:[9]

  • the trade envoy appointment process
  • how trade envoys were held accountable for the delivery of their roles
  • the relationship between a trade envoy and the resident ambassador
  • how the impact of each trade envoy was measured and assessed
  • whether the government had a review process for considering the reappointment of trade envoys
  • whether party balance was considered as part of the appointment process

On 29 May 2020, in response to the committee’s letter, the then secretary of state for international trade, Liz Truss, said the programme was undergoing a review, with changes expected to be made to ensure it supported departmental and government priorities.[10] Ms Truss committed to write to the committee to outline the programme once the review was complete.

On 16 July 2020, in response to the committee’s question on political balance, the then minister for investment, Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, said the government supported the programme “remaining cross party” and would always seek the views of the UK’s ambassadors and high commissioners when making appointments.[11] He said these views were then “fed into [the] secretary of state and No 10 for consideration”.

Following the programme’s review, the government announced 15 new trade envoy appointments on 5 October 2020.[12] Liz Truss then wrote to the committee on 30 October 2020 with a response to the committee’s earlier questions and set out further details of the programme.[13] On the appointment process, she confirmed that trade envoys were appointed by the prime minister following recommendations made by the Department for International Trade (the predecessor to the DBT). These were based on a candidate’s relevant skills and experience both for the role and the market they were being considered for. These skills and experience could be based on UK or overseas sector knowledge or their government-to-government experience, she said.

On accountability, Ms Truss said that whilst trade envoys were “ultimately accountable to the prime minister”, the day-to-day management was her responsibility as secretary of state for international trade.[14] As part of this, she said her ministerial team was introducing regular meetings with the trade envoys to provide an opportunity for them to update the government on progress in their respective markets and provide feedback on their role. Additionally, Ms Truss said the department was in the process of establishing a “robust mechanism” which she said would “help capture the value trade envoys bring to our trade and investment efforts more effectively”.

In response to the committee’s question about the relationship between the trade envoy and the relevant ambassador or high commissioner, Ms Truss said ambassadors and commissioners had a “pivotal role” in directing the focus of trade envoys in their market.[15] She said trade envoys supported the government’s trade objectives in a market, which in turn meant they supported the head of mission and trade commissioner. She emphasised that trade envoys were expected to support the government’s trade objectives and policies when working overseas or when hosting delegations in the UK, in the same way other representatives of the government did.

On the methodology used by the government for measuring the impact of trade envoys’ work, Ms Truss said a summary of trade envoy activities was produced at the end of each financial year alongside other “notable successes”.[16] She said this summary was then shared with Department for International Trade ministers and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Finally, Ms Truss said the government was “consistently reviewing” the trade envoy programme to ensure it aligned with government objectives.[17] Any recommendations were then made to the prime minister, she said.

4. What commentary about trade envoys has there been?

The trade envoy programme has received both praise and criticism over the years.

In 2019, the think tank Civitas spoke of the importance of trade envoys to UK trade, noting how “high profile supporting trade envoys” could lend “real weight” to UK trade missions.[18] The think tank said economic diplomacy was a key factor of trade missions and that trade envoys had the “advantage of being ‘national branded’”. Overall, it recommended the UK government expand the number of trade envoys.

However, the trade envoy programme has come under recent scrutiny, with some parliamentarians raising questions about the effectiveness of trade envoys and the transparency of the programme’s associated costs. In April 2024, Lord Anderson of Ipswich (Crossbench) questioned whether any assessment had been made of the utility of trade envoys.[19] Lord Anderson also questioned whether the programme was an informal way of extending the government’s payroll vote. The phrase ‘payroll vote’ is generally used to refer to those who hold offices that require them to support the government.[20] The phrase has also been used to describe those who hold positions that do not formally bind them to support the government, but which nonetheless involve an expectation of loyalty. The Institute for Government think tank has previously said the payroll vote could include at least some who serve as trade envoys. However, it concluded this expectation of loyalty was “far looser than the requirements of collective responsibility faced by the traditional payroll vote”.

Concerns about the transparency of associated costs of the trade envoy programme have recently been raised during oral questions in the House of Commons. Chris Bryant (Labour MP for Rhondda) asked the government to confirm what the travel costs of trade envoys were in the last three years.[21] Minister for Trade Policy Greg Hands said that travel costs were £63,566 for the financial year 2021/22; £226,014 for 2022/23; and £232,325 for 2023/24. These costs were for flights, accommodation and other “sundry expenses”, the minister said. In response, Mr Bryant argued there was “a great deal of murkiness” around the programme. He criticised the government for not publishing a breakdown of all trade envoy costs so that a judgement could be made on whether the money had been “well spent”. In response, the minister said “gifts and hospitality are already published in departmental registers”.

The government has defended the work of the trade envoys, with trade policy minister Greg Hands recently stating that the government was proud of the trade envoy programme.[22] The minister said the government believed trade envoys did an “excellent, good value-for-money job for the United Kingdom” to promote trade in key markets.

5. What are the latest UK trade statistics?

Official trade statistics showed the value of UK total trade in 2023 amounted to £1.76tn, a 1.2% increase from 2022.[23] ‘Total trade’ means the sum of exports and imports of goods and services.

More recently, in the 12 months ending February 2024, UK total trade was £1.75tn, which was a 1.6% decrease on the previous 12 months.[24] Of this total, the value of UK exports was £861.6bn and the value of UK imports was £892.8bn.[25] This was a decrease of 0.5% and 2.6% respectively when compared to the previous 12 months.

In 2022, the US was the UK’s largest trading partner, accounting for 16.6% (or £289.0bn) of total UK trade.[26] More recent data showed the US remained the UK’s largest trading partner in the 12 months to September 2023, accounting for 17.7% of total UK trade. Table 2 below shows the UK’s top 10 trading partners in the 12 months ending September 2023:

Table 2. Top 10 UK trading partners in the 12 months ending September 2023 (exports plus imports of goods and services)[27]

Rank Partner country £bn Percentage of total trade
1 United States 315.1 17.7%
2 Germany 147.7 8.3%
3 Netherlands 122.7 6.9%
4 France 103.4 5.8%
5 China 100.9 5.7%
6 Ireland 89.6 5.0%
7 Spain 63.2 3.5%
8 Belgium 57.6 3.2%
9 Switzerland 55.2 3.1%
10 Italy 50.7 2.8%

For more information on UK trade with specific countries, see the DBT-maintained trade and investment factsheets, which summarise the UK’s trade and investment positions with individual trading and investment partners overseas.[28]

6. Read more

Cover image by Jason Leung on Unsplash. Image has been cropped.


  1. HM Government, ‘Prime minister’s trade envoys’, accessed 16 May 2024. Return to text
  2. Department for Business and Trade, ‘Prime minister’s trade envoys: Terms of appointment and responsibilities’, 1 April 2023, DEP2023–0798. Return to text
  3. As above. Return to text
  4. As above. Return to text
  5. As above. Return to text
  6. HM Government, ‘Prime minister’s trade envoys’, accessed 16 May 2024. Return to text
  7. As above. Return to text
  8. As above. Return to text
  9. House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee, ‘Letter to Liz Truss MP, secretary of state for international trade, ref trade envoys’, 13 February 2020. Return to text
  10. Department for International Trade, ‘Letter to Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Conservative), chair of the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee, ref trade envoys’, 29 May 2020. Return to text
  11. Department for International Trade, ‘Letter to Baroness Anelay of St Johns, chair of the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee, ref the committee’s questions’, 16 July 2020. Return to text
  12. House of Commons, ‘Written statement: Prime minister’s trade envoy programme (HCWS483)’, 5 October 2020. Return to text
  13. Department for International Trade, ‘Letter to Baroness Anelay of St Johns, chair of the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee, ref trade envoy programme and new trade envoys’, 30 October 2020. Return to text
  14. As above. Return to text
  15. As above. Return to text
  16. As above. Return to text
  17. As above. Return to text
  18. Civitas, ‘Backing Britain’s global champions: The role of trade missions in supporting future exports’, June 2022, pp 41–3. Return to text
  19. Lord Anderson of Ipswich, ‘Personal X account’, 18 April 2024. Return to text
  20. Institute for Government, ‘Payroll vote’, 4 November 2019. Return to text
  21. Oral question on ‘Parliamentary trade envoys’, HC Hansard, 2 May 2024, col 323. Return to text
  22. Oral question on ‘South Korea: FTA negotiations’, HC Hansard, 2 May 2024, col 323. Return to text
  23. Department for Business and Trade, ‘Trade and investment core statistics book’, updated 19 April 2024. Return to text
  24. As above. Return to text
  25. Department for Business and Trade, ‘UK trade in numbers’, updated 19 April 2024. Return to text
  26. Department for Business and Trade, ‘Trade and investment core statistics book’, updated 19 April 2024. Return to text
  27. As above, section 12.1. Return to text
  28. HM Government, ‘Trade and investment factsheets’, updated 3 May 2024. Return to text