A new hub has been launched in Teesside to “accelerate the digital transformation of trade” in the region, particularly for MSMEs (micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises).
Speaking at the launch event at Teesside University for the new Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation (C4DTI) yesterday (8 March), Marco Forgione, the director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT), said digitalisation was the “next big win” for UK traders.
C4DTI is being led by the UK branch of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and includes the IOE&IT as its official education partner.
According to the ICC, the new centre is “led by industry and supported by government” and its core mission is to “accelerate the digitalisation of UK trade, the implementation of open systems based on common international standards and a digital trade system that is paperless, sustainable and secure.”
‘Moving the dial’
C4DTI director Nick Davies said that the launch event came at a time in which the UK needed to start “moving the dial on digital trade” and he said the country was at the “forefront of digital innovation”.
John Carroll, the chair of the C4DTI board, said that trade is currently “expensive, slow and complex” and that digitalisation is needed to combat this trend. Referring to the Electronic Trade Documents Bill, which is currently moving through Parliament, he said that “the first thing we need to do is change the law”.
Both Carroll and Davies said they were “grateful” for the IOE&IT’s support and said that the organisation was “very welcome” as the initiative’s training partner.
Nolan Gray, the director of the Teesside Freeport, agreed with Carroll about the importance of the Electronic Trade Documents Bill and said that businesses in the region wanted to embrace the opportunities that the legislation could lead to.
He said the region was a “hotbed of innovation” with newly formed connections with Singapore, Europe and Africa. He said there was a need to support the 17,500 MSMEs in the region through initiatives such as C4DTI.
Teesside Freeport was one of the eight English freeports announced by then Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March 2021.
‘Middle of something significant’
Professor Craig Gaskell, the vice-chancellor at Teesside University, welcomed the launch of the new centre, saying it was “at the heart of what this university is all about”.
He added that it felt as though the university was in “the middle of something significant” with the launch of the new C4DTI and Teesside Freeport both coming in the last two years.
Forgione, who also met Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen yesterday, said the new initiative showed the importance of Teesside as a trading hub.
He said the region “has been at the heart of international trade for as long as there has been an island off the coast of Europe”.
Tale from the past
Forgione cited the 15th century merchant Marion Kent as an example of the region’s long trading history, saying her story was particularly significant as the launch coincided with International Women’s Day.
Kent began trading from Hull in the 1470s and was a member of the Mistery of Mercers, exporting lead and dyed woollen cloth, as well as importing oil, cloth, wax, iron, soap and other commodities.