The UK government has pledged to strengthen the country’s ability to deal with supply chain shocks by cutting down on red tape and stress-testing resilience, in response to the ongoing shake-up of vital trade routes.

The critical imports and supply chains strategy, launched on Wednesday, comes in the wake of attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea and the longer-term disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the pandemic and the climate crisis.

The strategy aims to create “strong and resilient supply chains for vital goods” and “avoid dependence on protectionist or coercive states”, the government says.

It marks the UK’s first overarching strategy designed to secure access to critical goods – defined as those vital to the UK’s security and prosperity – and builds on existing strategies for semiconductors, batteries and critical minerals.

Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade, says the strategy is “good news for British businesses and the wider economy” amid supply chain issues driven by “protectionist policies in other markets, shipping and logistics problems, sanctions and security concerns”.

The plan includes the creation of an online portal where businesses can report regulatory barriers or disruption to the government, which will “work to remove these barriers wherever possible”.

Next steps include helping businesses stress test resilience to supply chain shocks, including climate-related disruptions, and the creation of a critical imports council, aimed at giving businesses a voice in the UK government’s work to shore up supply chains.

Ali Ansari, managing director for product management at Taulia, says: “It is welcome news to see the government’s commitment to creating a more secure trading environment for supply chains.

“Adopting risk mitigation strategies like diversifying suppliers, optimising inventory levels, and leveraging financial technology tools to minimise the impact of supply chain disruptions is key in times of supply chain shock.”

The government also flags the need for “further supply chain financing interventions for the UK’s most critical supply chains”, pointing to the role played by UK Export Finance (UKEF) and the UK Infrastructure Bank (UKIB), alongside a £1.7mn net-zero blended finance project – also involving UKEF and UKIB – to support supply chain development.

Yet no new funds are being committed as part of the strategy, a sign of lagging investment in critical supply chains by the government, according to Elizabeth Stephens, managing director of political risk insight firm Geopolitical Risk Advisory.

“Last year, when the US and German governments were committing billions to semiconductor development and production, the Sunak government pledged £1bn,” Stephens tells GTR.

“The strategy is wise in theory, but will it actually be implemented, particularly with an election looming?”

The UK government says it will also be looking to strike more trade deals that secure access to critical goods and connect UK businesses to alternative overseas suppliers, as well as secure international investment in energy transition projects.

The strategy includes input from organisations like the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and Green Lithium, a processing firm for the battery metal that counts Trafigura among its investors and is currently building the UK’s first large-scale merchant lithium refinery.

“In combination with the UK critical minerals strategy and the US-UK Atlantic declaration, we anticipate that this strategy will attract investment in the UK’s critical mining and refining industries and enhance relationships with key mining countries, including Australia, Canada and Brazil,” says Sean Sargent, chief executive of Green Lithium.

The Atlantic declaration, launched in June 2023, kicked off negotiations between the two countries on a critical minerals agreement.