Baroness Fairhead CBE
Minister of State at the Department for International Trade
I am often asked why Germany has managed to increase its exports as a percentage of GDP from 30% to 47%, while the UK has not. It is a good question. But the answer isn’t to look at what we didn’t do in the past; it is to look at what we are going to do in the future.
It has been three months since the Department for International Trade (DIT) launched the government’s Export Strategy, setting out our ambition to increase exports as a percentage of GDP to 35%.
Achieving this target will move the UK forward from the middle of the G7 to near the top in terms of export performance. It is ambitious, but I am confident that it is achievable.
Within the strategy, we set out 52 measures to help businesses export their goods and services. These range from giving UK firms better access to commercial opportunities, to assessing how DIT can work better with overseas delivery partners and giving companies advanced notice of overseas ministerial-led trade missions.
“Every £100 of exporting makes a direct contribution to the economy of £30-40.”
Potential goods exporting opportunities with new strategy
Since the launch, we have already implemented a number of these measures. For example, we have successfully expanded a programme of supplier fairs and increased the size of our UK Export Finance network based in overseas markets. Additionally, we have increased the number of export opportunities on great.gov.uk to more than 20,000, showcasing potential contracts for British companies such as cheese to Hong Kong, chocolate to India and touch-screen computers to the Netherlands.
Expansion is crucial for stablising family businesses for generations to come
With 99% of businesses in the UK being SMEs, these measures are vital to helping our small businesses begin or expand their existing export operations. In turn, this can have an incredible impact – making small companies more profitable, allowing them to take on more staff and increasing their staying power, allowing family businesses to move seamlessly between generations.
Yet, if you ask small businesses if they are already exporting, a lot of them say that they cannot get the finance, or that they are not familiar with foreign markets, or simply that they don’t have the connections to open the door to new markets.
Peer-to-peer advice for SMEs
That is where DIT and private sector support can rise to the challenge. Businesses have told us that our support for them is vital. This includes our network of export champions, who can provide peer-to-peer advice and expertise that is often relatable and exemplifies the ‘If We Can, You Can’ message of our campaign.
Additionally, our award-winning export credit agency, UK Export Finance, has £50bn of finance available for British companies and our website, great.gov.uk has a wealth of resources that can help businesses begin their exporting journey.
But supporting businesses isn’t solely the preserve of government. I know that others offer vital support that businesses can take advantage of as well. A great example of this is the new Barclays trade centre in Birmingham, which I opened recently. The centre has 30 dedicated staff helping UK businesses take the next step to selling overseas, providing an extremely useful link between finance and export support. Other banks, local chambers and LEPs have terrific trade support networks too.
Our economic strength is built through exports
As we approach Small Business Saturday and the busy Christmas period, we want to make it clearer than ever that we will build our economic strength through our modern Industrial Strategy to create an environment in which SMEs can continue to thrive.
Exporting is vital to that and there is an obvious overseas demand for British goods, services and skills. Every £100 of exporting makes a direct contribution to the economy of £30-40. British companies can and should be pursuing these opportunities. And we stand ready to support from that first expression of interest to the moment a consumer in the US, China or Australia takes a British product off the shelf or uses a British service.
The UK exported £637bn of goods and services in 2017
The UK is already great at exporting: it is the world’s sixth largest overall exporter and we sold £637bn of goods and services overseas last year. However, there are still thousands of opportunities for our companies around the world, and the best way to encourage companies to take advantage of these is to keep talking about the significant benefits they can bring to businesses of all sizes, in all corners of the UK. I’d urge any and all SMEs with a desire to grow to consider exporting – and to reach out to the DIT. We’re here to help.