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Catherine Arnold

Former British Ambassador to Mongolia

Part of BBC Inside the Foreign Office 2018 UK in Mongolia

22nd November 2018 Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Mongolia: small embassies can have a big impact

In Mongolia, it's an honour to be 'given' and name a camel or horse, though it remains with its original owner. I am on Wilfred, one of my two 'flag camels'.

Mongolia is everything you expect. Mongolia is also everything you don’t expect. At least that’s what I found as the UK’s Ambassador. The world’s least densely populated country, which was once one of the largest empires in world history, it is a land of immense beauty and rich history.

Mongolia is also a vibrant 21st century democracy. Many issues that matter to Mongolia, matter to us – media freedom, climate change, global peacekeeping. And, it’s quite literally sitting on a gold mine. Home to over 6000 deposits of more than 80 different minerals, Mongolia has the potential to be the richest country per capita in the world.

That means the small, motivated embassy of three UK diplomats and our excellent Mongolian team, covers a huge range of work.


The Permanent Under-Secretary, Simon McDonald, and embassy staff, including our longest-serving member Minnie the Mongolian Mouser (who sadly died earlier this year after 15 years of service).

The UK and Mongolia have recently celebrated 55 years of diplomatic relations and, as Mongolia’s second largest trading partner, our trading relationship matters for both countries. To celebrate the 55th anniversary, we announced:

  • the appointment of Julian Knight MP as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Mongolia;
  • that UK Export Finance will increase how much it lends to support suppliers and buyers of UK exports to Mongolia.

Having fretted about meeting our export targets the excellent Department of International Trade team exceeded them.

Cambridge Mask Company’s initial consignment of pollution masks sold out within 24 hrs of the fashion show they were launched at, developing into a thriving collaboration with a Mongolian pharmacy chain.


Experimenting with the masks at the fashion show!

The mask fashion show also means more people have started to wear effective masks – of whatever brand. The embassy has since taken this to the next level, focussing on supporting the poorer parts of Ulaanbaatar, where pollution levels often go off the international air-quality scale.

This is typical of our work in Mongolia – supporting UK trade is of course an essential part of what diplomats do around the world but the relationship between our 2 countries is about so much more than that.


An ice sculpture of the Beatles and London.

We work with Mongolia in the UN Human Rights Council, Mongolian troops joined coalitions with ours in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, and Mongolian peacekeepers are currently working across Africa. UK expertise is supporting education reform and a UK funded mobile app and training for border guards is helping to counter the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) here.

The last had swift, positive results, including a 25-fold increase in detection of smuggled, endangered wolf-parts. The Mongolian Foreign Minister spoke powerfully about this at the recent major international conference on IWT, in London.

It’s true that supporting UK trade is important work for diplomats around the world and small embassies can have a big impact. The British Embassy Ulaanbaatar has helped UK companies in Mongolia to secure exports worth many times the total running and staff costs of our embassy.


UK car manufacturer promotional parade for the #InspireMe UK festival.

But diplomacy works best when trade is one of many links between the UK and the countries we work in. A key task for diplomats is to fit together the people and pieces to make the UK’s presence overseas much more than the sum of its separate parts.

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About Catherine Arnold

Ms Arnold joined the FCO in 2006. She has worked on a range of issues including human rights, counter terrorism and public affairs. After serving in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and…

Ms Arnold joined the FCO in 2006. She has worked on a range of issues including human rights, counter terrorism and public affairs. After serving in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Oman, Ms Arnold returned to London to work in the FCO’s Prosperity Directorate before moving to UK Trade & Investment.

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