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John Longworth speech from International Trade Conference

Posted: 3rd November 2015


I am constantly amazed at what these companies have achieved, often beating competition from other countries, or succeeding where others before them failed. Where companies are exporting they are doing well.
Chambers themselves, of course, were set up centuries ago to promote trade, so it’s not surprising that we count amongst our ranks Britain’s most prolific global traders. After all, it’s in our DNA.

But, as a nation, we have to be honest with ourselves.
The huge trading success stories we see in the Chamber Network are not representative of British business or the UK as a whole.
– The UK has too few exporting companies.
– The UK is slow to spot and exploit new markets. We’re even losing market share in a number of key growth markets around the world.
– The UK has problems with skills, infrastructure and access to finance that hinder export growth.
– And the UK – and its constituent nations – create support scheme after support scheme for business growth and exports, but few, if any, have the desired effect.

Yes, we have to be honest with ourselves – and acknowledge that, as a country, we are not living up to the national export challenge set by the Prime Minister back in 2012.
– Britain has had a trade deficit since 1998 – and this became four-and-a half-times larger by the end of 2014, at £34.5 billion. Yes, it’s true that he deficit has narrowed by £8 billion since 2010 – but this has been on the back of a standout performance by services alone.
– The UK has had a current account deficit since 1984. It’s now 57 times as large as it was then, at nearly £93 billion. Since 2010, the current account deficit has more than doubled, as income from overseas investments has reduced and it is indicative of the quality and volume of both inward and outward investment.
– Even though the value of UK exports to non-EU countries has increased by 25% over the past five years, compared to just 6% for exports to the EU, we have not moved quickly enough to seize opportunities in the new markets.
– By British Chambers calculations, we’re 14 years behind meeting the target of £1 trillion in annual exports, despite standout performances by so many individual companies.

And our latest Quarterly International Trade outlook – which we publish together with our friends and partners at DHL – is showing that export sales, orders and overall confidence are well down on levels seen in the past few years.
So the challenge remains huge.
Yet so, too, does our determination to address it –
– And this, I hope, is the start of the fightback.

To rise to this challenge, we as a Chamber Network, are working differently – based on our determination to build a sustainable, business-to-business support network to help companies achieve their trading aspirations around the world.
Our determination to make a difference is so great that we have spent the past four years radically changing the way we work.

We have agreed that all UK Chambers that they will provide or procure a comprehensive set of export and trade-related services, based on the business export journey.

The BCC measures the performance of UK Chambers on International Trade services through a strong, focused Accreditation Standard, to give customers confidence in the services provided.

But change in the UK, is only half of the story.

We have also spent the past three years building a new pathway to help UK businesses into new markets – and support them once they get there.

The result is our Global Business Network – a vibrant, growing Network of British Chambers and Business Groups in high-growth markets across the world.

Many of our colleagues from the Global Network are here, with us, today. Together, we share the goal of building a bigger “pipeline” of UK companies seeking to grow in cities and countries all across the world.

Now – for the first time – a manufacturer from Birmingham, Bradford or Bristol can get top—notch support and advice from a British Chamber the minute it lands in Bangkok, Beijing or Bucharest.

For the first time, a company from Swansea, Stirling or Sunderland will get contacts and support in Singapore, Santiago De Chile or Sao Paulo from a trusted source.
We know companies here in the UK want a bespoke service.
Each firm has different needs, different objectives and different financials.

So our Global Business Network will have to deliver real value to each and every customer.

What sets us apart, is our ability to provide a bespoke service to thousands of SMEs, based on our shared experience as Chambers of Commerce.

We know that this approach will be highly complementary to the role that government can play in supporting exports. Government is great at helping businesses close deals overseas, and at free trade deals.

Our Global Business Network can, and will, help take more of the load supporting British SMEs, offering a bespoke, ‘butler’ service.

When it comes to today’s theme, “Accessing High Growth Markets”, there is no better partner for a British business, taking its first steps – either into export or into a new market.
The scale of challenge facing Britain today is huge.
In truth, we stand at a fork in the road. And we have to face some pretty big questions.
– We face choices about the structure of our economy. Will we continue, our unsustainable binge of consumer and Government spending – or will we make the tough choices and fix the fundamentals, a choice that would lead to more investment and global trade?
– We face choices about our membership of the European Union. Chamber members have different views on this, once-in-a-generation debate, but all want an outcome that sees the UK in the best position to trade both; close to home and further afield. But businesses, have the right information to make their own choices about this?
– We face choices about were to focus our business growth efforts in an ever-changing world economy. Should we choose between developed countries, BRICS and new emerging markets? Or can we choose to ‘Dial up the Volume’ in each and every one?
– Above all, we face choices when it comes to culture and outlook. Will we choose to celebrate and build on the achievements of our small-but-perfectly-formed manufacturing sector and our status as a Global Services Superpower? Will we offer enough support to our amazing global businesses so that they can go even further – and restore our reputation as a great trading nation?

Some of these questions can only be answered by Government, or in the case of the European Referendum, by the British people.

But on that very last question – will we offer enough support to our global businesses – I can speak for the British Chambers and the Global Business Network and say: WE CAN – AND WE WILL.

We are at the start of something truly special – a Network of British business, by British business, for British business, working together across the globe to boost the prospects for companies of every size, shape, sector, region, or nation.

I look forward to the day that “Accessing High Growth Markets” is no longer an appropriate subject for a conference like this one – because we are doing such a great job linking businesses to opportunities, that winning new orders across the globe is just another part of the day job.
We all have a role to play in making this happen.

Government must fix the fundamentals here at home, use its own global network to spot the next wave of opportunities, and make sure that British trade is not saddled with unnecessary costs and barriers, whether in the UK or markets overseas.

Businesses must put global opportunities higher on their own priority lists, and build a culture where risks are taken not just here at home but in markets around the world hungry for British products.

And we, as a Global Business Network, will be there to facilitate trade, and help companies develop and succeed in their own particular journey to export success.

I look forward to the day when we are no longer 14 years behind our export growth target, but achieving new records year on year.
It will be a marathon, not a sprint.
But in a competitive world, it’s a goal we must achieve.

Thank you.

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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