Britain’s top U.S.-based diplomat capped off his first visit to Charleston on Monday by calling for stronger trade and tourism ties between his nation and United States.
Charleston is well-positioned to capitalize in both instances, said Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott.
As a major East Coast port city, Charleston could become “a major hub for this connection into the U.K.,” he said at a World Trade Center Charleston luncheon at the Harbour Club.
“You are one of the most important port cities in the United States,” he said.
Also, Westmacott urged local travel officials to direct more marketing at British tourists.
“I think you’ve got a brand image that’s very, very special. .. Exploit that for all it’s worth,” he said.
In addition to pitching the region’s history, architecture and ties to England, Westmacott suggested that it couldn’t hurt to highlight Charleston’s thriving bar and restaurant scene.
“The Brits, wherever they go, they love that,” he said.
Westmacott, a former U.K. ambassador to France and Turkey, has visited about 30 U.S. regions outside of Washington, D.C., since taking up his latest posting about 14 months ago.
On Monday, he spread what he a called a “prosperity agenda” aimed at increasing direct investment and exports between the two countries.
He asked local business leaders to press their federal lawmakers about lowering trade barriers with Europe and supporting other free trade initiatives.
“It’s good for your businesses. It’s good for the port,” he said.
Slammed by the 2008 financial meltdown, the U.K. is still trying to get back on its feet. Westmacott said the British economy posted no growth last year, and meager gains of less than 2 percent are forecast through 2014.
“That’s not good enough,” he said.
It’s crucial that Europe and the United States, representing half of the world’s gross domestic product, do more to promote business activity on both sides of the Atlantic.
“We had a very successful but ultimately unsustainable decade of growth up until 2007. Then we had the implosion,” he said. “We are now going through a pretty tough time. The United States is doing better than the rest of us.”
As Westmacott was making his pitch downtown, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance said one of its representatives was in Ireland the U.K promoting the Lowcountry to business leaders abroad.
The ambassadors’s advice was spot on, said David Ginn, CEO of the local group.
“He’s saying, “Do more and ... tell your story more,’” Ginn said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.