Edinburgh Chamber CEO Blog
Scotland and the UK are increasingly areas of interest and concern for overseas markets. As Brexit pushes business to seek international trade connections outwith the political process, likewise, overseas markets are keen to ensure they maintain a strong relationship with their important trade partner – the UK. As our politicians have become preoccupied with politics rather than government, foreign politicians are being proactive in extending their hands as welcoming neighbours; seeking and encouraging FTAs to protect their export economy.
Recently, the Chamber has hosted visits from the Qatar Financial Centre and the Ministry of Economic Opportunities from Western Cape, who were both keen to encourage investment and trade with their regions and who also emphasised the importance of the UK market – we import significantly from these geographies. 90% of UK’s liquid natural gas is imported from Qatar and we are the number one export market for Western Cape for fruit and Agri products.
Qatar in particular is keen to develop a diverse economy and is seeking expertise and business links with UK businesses to broaden their economic sectors, alongside the traditionally strong oil and gas industries. The scope for two way trade is apparent and Scotland has much to offer. Both Qatar and Wester Cape seek collaboration in Financial Services, FinTech, ICT, Tourism and renewable energy, sectors in which Scotland has leading expertise. Our knowledge economy is one of our best assets.
What is becoming increasingly apparent is that our global suppliers are keen to have FTAs outwith the EU agreement post Brexit and that these trade agreements do not impose barriers or detrimental changes to the current trade conditions currently being enjoyed.
This increased focus on international business will inevitably draw focus on our links with the rest of the world. Edinburgh Airport recently signed an MOU with Beijing Airport agreeing to ongoing collaboration and knowledge-sharing which should, in time, lead to a direct flight between the two airports. This will have a significant economic impact for Scotland. As much as 20 times more trade flows between countries with direct flights.
Whilst the expansion at Heathrow Airport will bring greater connectivity as the UK’s hub airport, Scotland needs to invest in attracting more direct flights to key markets. Edinburgh Airport has seen record growth in the past 5 years. Built in the 1970s to handle 1 million passengers a year, over 13 million passengers now pass through this rapidly expanding airport. And the reason for this? Edinburgh Airport has been extremely proactive in targeting and delivering new airlines and direct flights that are hugely beneficial for trade, education and tourism. The business sector and government must get behind them as the ultimate beneficiaries of their effort and investment.
Forth Ports are also investing extensively in preparation for Brexit. Whilst a hard border with Europe means greater scrutiny of goods in transit and potential delays through customs, planning now for the infrastructure and processes to deal with this means we can mitigate and manage the impact.
Forth Ports are working hard to maintain Edinburgh’s international reputation, ensuring they have the infrastructure, processes and people in place to continue their operations in spite of any changes which may occur as a result of Brexit. With an application for AEO status underway, ports could see quicker access to simplified customs procedures and in some cases, the right to ‘fast-track’ shipments.
Enterprise is alive and well in Scotland but it needs attention, support and investment. Cities are the engine of growth for Scotland. All of which recognise the need for greater collaboration to deliver stronger economic growth. Glasgow and Edinburgh need to work together as a central belt region for economies of scale that will bring greater return on investment. And as Business is playing its part, we now need the funding and focus from Government to ensure we have the infrastructure, skills and innovation that will form the cornerstone of a strong, global economy creating jobs and opportunities that can deliver the inclusive society we all strive for.