The government today released its new ‘Export Strategy’ calling on the UK to become a ‘21st Century exporting superpower’. The headline development from the strategy is a new ambition to raise exports as a proportion of UK GDP from 30% to 35%.
With UK exports at a record high due to the weakened pound and high global demand, the strategy is full of ambition and plans to increase market access and trade financing options for the UK’s would-be exporters. The strategy also calls on businesses to become ‘Export Champions’, with peer-to-peer learning and support a key tactic to incentivise those who could but do not currently export. Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP, said in a speech launching the strategy that the phrase ‘if we can, you can’ takes on greater substance when coming from business peers.
Mr Fox said:
“Currently, exports represent around 30% of our GDP - broadly similar to France, Italy and Canada, but substantially behind Germany. Given the strength of the UK economy, we should be reaching for the top of the pack – not lingering in the middle.
"That is why today I am announcing a new national ambition to raise exports as a proportion of our GDP from 30% to 35%, putting us towards the top of the G7. This is challenging, but achievable as we build a truly Global Britain.”
Baroness Fairhead CBE, the Minister of State for Trade, also made a speech to mark the launch of the strategy and noted four main pillars in it:
“Firstly - encouraging more companies to export and more countries to look at UK goods and services. Secondly - informing our companies in a more effective, pragmatic way. Thirdly - providing finance in areas of market failure, and finally - using the connecting and convening power of government in a significantly enhanced way.”
A ‘Business Productivity Review’ will look into export support in the public and private spheres available to businesses looking to increase their exports, particularly SMEs. The strategy brochure also discusses government support already available for businesses looking to enter international trade, including UK Export Finance, DIT’s International Trade advisers, and on the great.gov.uk website.
More needs to be done to train the next generation of international traders
The Institute welcomes the enthusiasm and ambition of the strategy, but we also believe that more should be said about the need to train individuals and businesses in the skills of international trade. We welcome initiatives like the recently launched Board of Trade National Trade Academy Programme and believe that the government should be doing more to raise genuine understanding in businesses and individuals about the myriad processes and compliance requirements involved throughout global trade.
We believe that exporting is great, but so is the need to understand how to do it profitably and with skill – it’s easy when you know how. With Brexit on the way, and the potential impact this will have on business’ international supply chains and customs compliance requirements, we believe it’s never been more important for businesses to properly learn export skills - whether it be how to make customs declarations, understanding rules of origin, or ensuring compliance with anti-bribery laws. We are yet to see to what extent the government is looking to take a lead on this key point.
We at the Institute will continue to do our bit to train businesses in the skills and processes of international trade through our training, education programme, apprenticeships, and our free support for SMEs through the Open to Export project.