Secretary of State for International Trade, the Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox recently came to Business West to deliver an upbeat message to companies about the South West’s great export opportunities.
Almost 150 companies attended the event organised by Business West as part of our Export for Growth programme co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the Department of International Trade.
After his speech, I was able to put some burning questions to Dr Fox.
Which business sector did he believe provides the best opportunities post Brexit?
“I think, in general, you will see a huge demand for the services sector overall because I think what the UK has to offer is knowledge and experience. In the knowledge economy, we already have what people want to buy.
“This is why we are seeing UK services exports performing so strongly. There is demand for UK services - everything from accounting to planning, to architecture, to life sciences and to legal services.”
I asked Dr Fox about the export opportunities for food and drink producers from the South West:
“Yes, it is a great area for food and drink and the region has been performing very well. There are huge opportunities if we can get markets opened.
“I mentioned in my speech the potential lifting of the Chinese ban on British beef –that is a market of a billion people.
“What the Government can do is work to get those markets opened and it is then up to our own producers to take advantage of them.
“Again, my department can help regionally, and as you know, Business West are doing a great job in helping our exporters into market.
“But we can’t help people who don’t come to us for help—they need to contact us no matter what sector they are in and we can guide them into markets.
“For instance, the Great.gov.uk website sets out- in real time- live exporting opportunities.
“So, companies should really be logged onto that because it informs them where exporting opportunities arise, and secondly, it enables their business to be seen worldwide—with translations into a number of languages on the website. Everyone should take advantage of it.”
I asked Dr Fox about UK productivity, which is generally accepted as a key issue for the economy:
“If you compare the British car industry with what it used to be like, productivity has increased enormously and that is right throughout the engineering industry.
“It is one of the challenges for farming, of course - we need to get better activity levels but that is dependent on getting more investment into the sector.
“If we work together, we can make sure that the extra investment that produces the activity makes us even more competitive.”
I said he was touring the world drumming up new export business, but what could the government do now to help SMEs export more?
“We can ease their path with things like export finance-last year 79 % of the export finance that we took was for SMEs—that is a fundamental change from where we used to be and it is a trend we must keep pushing.
“We must get more of those SMEs exporting so they won’t be small for much longer.”
Business West, of course, represents the Department of International Trade in encouraging exports from this region. What could Business West do better, I asked Dr Fox:
“It doesn’t need to do anything better - it just needs to do more of it.”
As the organiser of the event, it is fitting that I give Jamie Breese the last word about the event:
“It was the culmination of many months of planning and one of the smoothest events we have ever hosted. Brexit is the most important issue facing the country in living memory and how it will impact business and what opportunities await us is at the forefront of the minds of businesses across the South West. Dr Fox is at the forefront of the process and to have such a distinguished speaker make his address to such a varied range of businesses at such a special venue – namely Leigh Court in Bristol – was hugely informative.”
Business West are also hosting the Trade Horizons Roadshows this month which will act as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for any business who is already exporting or looking to start selling overseas. The event will be held in Cornwall, Bristol, Swindon and Exeter in June and July.
Click here to book your place: https://www.businesswest.co.uk/trade-horizons-roadshow