Exporting is about to get a whole lot more complex and difficult, and British industry needs to start educating itself to succeed in the new world where each country has its own trading agreement with the UK.

When Britain shifts its focus to trade with the rest of the world rather than exporting mainly to Europe in the wake of Brexit, the number of individual transactions will soar, according to Lesley Batchelor, director general of the Institute of Export. And because each transaction costs money to process, the total cost to British industry will be enormous.

"Currently we have 90m transactions in import/export to the rest of the world every year and when we leave the EU that will rise to 300m, according to HMRC figures," she says. "The extra cost of processing all those transactions is likely to exceed £3.4 billion a year."

The UK has 90m transactions in import/export to the rest of the world every year and when we leave the EU that will rise to 300m

This includes the costs of customs clearance, which often involves expensive delays. "That means paperwork that will have to be carefully done because if it is not it will cost money, risk damage to reputation and even lost orders," Batchelor says. "We need to get the message out about how important it is to get this right if we are to be able to trade effectively in an age when people won't tolerate hold-ups."

 

Export education

 

So education is going to be vital for success in the post-Brexit world, and a wide range of courses is now available to create the expertise required at all levels, from shipping clerk to CEO.

"We do qualifications all the way from a Level 1 Diploma which is like an O level all the way to Level 5 which is equivalent to the second year of a degree, and is the entry level to a BSc course in International Trade and Logistics at Plymouth University. We also have a masters degree in collaboration with Warwick," Batchelor explains. "It is about building competence when you are trading internationally. Level 3, which is like our A-level, is for shipping clerks who are involved in the nitty-gritty, Level 4 is about the practicalities of it all and Level 5 takes you to a strategic and managerial level."

And the good news is that courses are available on the web so can be taken without interrupting careers. "We deliver everything online using our digital platform so students have their own timetable of study," Batchelor says.

Ensuring exporters have the highest expertise and skills will be essential to compete in a world that is looking increasingly fragmented, Batchelor believes. "We seem to be moving towards protectionism but we hope governments will be persuaded to stick with globalisation because so much good has come out of it. It is important for us to understand what is going on so we can work around those invisible barriers."

One of the problems is that exporters have had it easy in the EU. "We have forgotten a lot of the basics about what is needed to trade internationally because it is so easy to do business with the EU. We want people to be really well prepared so they can get out there and do it well. That is the only way we are going to have a sustainable future."

We have forgotten a lot of the basics about what is needed to trade internationally because it is so easy to do business with the EU

To make it easier for people who may already have relevant qualifications but want to hone their expertise in specific areas, or can't take extended periods away from work, the Institute offers a wide range of short courses held around the country. These range from dealing with the complexities of sending physical 'stuff' abroad, from fundamentals such as how to handle direct and indirect exports to detailed understanding of letters of credit, customs classifications, rules of origin and all the other paperwork issues that can cause expensive delays and tax issues if done incorrectly. Courses are also available on sales technique, to generate those essential exports.

Members of the Institute also get access to a technical help line with experts who can answer difficult questions about export controls, the very intimidating Bribery Act, regulatory and compliance issues, insurance, payment terms and logistics.

 

Going global

 

The latest focus is, unsurprisingly, on markets outside the EU, including modules on exporting to Russia, China and Arabic - and Spanish speaking countries, including language skills specific to logistics. The courses also include cultural issues, those embarrassing faux pas that Brits can stumble into unawares.

Batchelor believes that exporting is the key to Britain's participation in the globalisation process that has lifted millions of people out of poverty and linked the world together to tackle world problems such as climate change.

"Openness to international markets, globalisation if you will, also spurs investment and innovation within businesses and economies as a whole," she says. "Economic integration, and through it globalisation, empowers entrepreneurs and consumers alike. They also create new incentives and opportunities for everybody involved in a modern economy."

If the government is making any missteps in its campaign to get British industry moving into markets outside the European Union, it is by implying that selling our quality goods and services round the world is a simple matter, Batchelor believes. "I would like the government to stop saying exporting is easy. I would like them to say there is lots of help to get things right. Saying it is easy sounds great but in the long run people find it is not easy and take a decision one way or another as to whether they will continue."