Institute Director General, Lesley Batchelor OBE, attended a Prospect magazine and Associated British Ports joint fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference entitled “How can trade re-balance the economy in post-Brexit Britain?”. The meeting brought together business people, politicians and policy experts to discuss one of the biggest challenges facing the UK economy.
It is now widely acknowledged that, in the run-up to the recession of 2008, the UK economy had become seriously unbalanced in multiple ways: too geographically dependent on London and the South East of England, too few exports, too little investment and an uncomfortably high trade deficit. Whilst “re-balancing” has been talked up a lot over the last decade, progress has often been fleeting. Brexit gives a new impetus to this existing problem.
Lesley argued that many British firms have essentially forgotten how to trade. If policymakers want to boost exports then firms – especially small to medium sized ones – will require a great deal more support than they currently receive. She argued that this was partially a question of training- the expertise that is needed to drive overseas sales is sadly lacking in much of UK business.
Also on the panel were James Cooper, the Chief Executive of Associated British Ports; Adam Marshall, the Director of the British Chambers of Commerce; John Howell MP; Ranil Jayawardena MP and Richard Graham MP.
Much of the discussion proceeded on the basis that the UK would be leaving the EU customs union. However, it was noted that there was a significant lobby within the business community who wished to remain in the customs union. Adam Marshall noted that many businesses were keen to avoid talking about the “political” issue of customs union membership and instead preferred to concentrate on the concrete things they needed when it came to the ease of doing business with Europe – which is still our largest trading partner. Both he and Lesley argued that whilst it was all well and good having high level debates about the opportunities from new trade deals, there was a lot of important “nitty gritty” around customs clearances and origin of contents rules that would have a major impact on firms.
Photos courtesy of Prospect Magazine and Nigel Ash, Carrera Commercial Photography