The UK governement has launched today a new export strategy aiming to increase UK total exports as a proportion of GDP to 35%, but how effective could it be?
The plans, set out by International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, aim to make Britain an exporting “superpower”.
Through better use of the UK’s overseas network, new online tools and building an extensive business to business network, the government hope to carry out the strategy.
But does this proposal just follow the already flagging industrial strategy?
Last year £620bn of goods and services was exported by British companies, and this accounted for 30% of the UK’s GDP, putting exports at a record high.
When Britain leaves the EU next March, international trade will be vital. Depending on if the Brexit white paper proposals – free trade with the EU – is negotiated, will dictate how essential the export strategy and securing relationships outside of the EU are.
This remains a huge burden for manufacturers as they are still unaware of whether they will endure a hard or softer Brexit and time is running out. Therefore, new markets outside of the European Union could be absolutely critical.
The export strategy outlined by the government is great in theory, it tactically aims to improve international exports, but whether it can be actually executed, remains doubtful.
But what do manufacturers think of the strategy?
The Manufacturer posed the question, could the export strategy actually be effective? To three leading manufacturers with varying responses.
Three leading manufacturers give their opinions
John Nollett, CEO of Pressmark Pressings, a metal forming specialist based in the West Midlands, said to The Manufacturer: “To be honest, it doesn’t say much. It looks more like a wish list and a statement of facts rather than a strategy.
“It feels like it has been written by people that have never exported and, in reality, it needs to be far more focused.
He explained that making big strategic announcements needs to have more thought and, although the statement says it coincides with the industrial strategy, which in his opinion is “poor” too, he concluded that “there is no real link between the two strategically.”
Nollett concluded: “We all know if we can be more productive as a nation we can be globally more successful through exporting, balancing the books. In effect this is what they have said and are saying, but this is just common sense to business owners, not a strategy.”
Christopher Greenough, commercial director, Salop Design & Engineering Ltd said to The Manufacturer: “With Brexit on the horizon for UK businesses, I welcome the fact that the government is now pushing ahead with strategies to support us. We need to look to new markets, and we need to export more of our goods, to increase these proportionally as a % of GDP.”
He explained that backing up the industrial strategy and allowing businesses to grow is the only way to sustain economic growth.
He said: “More companies would look to exporting, but only if they have vision and a robust, long-term plan from government; the announcement goes some way to realising this vision.”
What businesses need now – according to Greenough – is to see this vision turned into a reality and for it to be properly resourced to enable businesses to access the support they need.
Greenough concluded: “The focus should be on SME’s, as this is where the greatest potential growth in terms of exports can come, build confidence, and UK business will push ahead. There is a renewed desire for the British brand, and this is something that we need to promote and push.”
Tony Hague, chief executive of PP Control & Automation, one of the world’s largest suppliers of control and automation systems and sub-contract manufacturing solutions, told The Manufacturer: “Industry needs a long-term strategy – not party specific – that offers genuine executional support for SMEs to either start exporting or increasing their export geographies.”
He said that while many have innovative designs and world class engineering capability, in order to move outside traditional markets they need further support.
He concluded: “Brexit will almost certainly have a short term (at best) impact on European trade, but hopefully all of this will get resolved swiftly and with intelligence. Irrespective of Brexit, UK companies should be looking to develop export markets further afield. However, this in turn creates additional risk and costs.”