It’s riskier to cycle across London on a bicycle than it is to export, that was the message given to the 500 delegates who attended the British Chambers of Commerce’s (BCC) International Trade Summit in London in October.
Leading businesses were joined by High Commissioners, politicians and trade experts for the event which highlighted trading opportunities, policies and good practice across the global marketplace.
Claire Mason, CEO of B2B marketing company Man Bites Dog, said only a small percentage of the UK’s SMEs actively exported and urged firms to broaden their horizons and look to market opportunities in the US, China, the Commonwealth, Africa and the Gulf States.
She said Europe remained a critical and important market but the UK consistently underperformed in every trade route across the globe.
Stephen Huyton, Group Financial Director, of the Netherlands-based Thermopatch International, said attending trade fairs was the ideal place to start making international contacts.
“You need to go out and explore – there is more risk cycling across London than there is exporting. But if you don’t do it, you’ll never know,” Mr Huyton said.
Speaker after speaker highlighted the negative impact Brexit had had on their business – from taking up senior management time, to ploughing precious resources into risk management and trying to protect supply chains.
This led many to call on businesses to look at new markets beyond Europe: “You have the building blocks in your business to trade anywhere in the world.
“Be confident. You have the ability to trade anywhere in the world,” Marc Bunch, UK Global Trade Leader for EY UK, said.
High Commissioners from Australia and South Africa echoed his sentiments saying their countries were ready and waiting to do deals with UK businesses.
“If times are uncertain then the arguments for greater global trade are even stronger,” George Brandis, the Australian High Commissioner to the UK and Northern Ireland, said.
Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the BCC, said while three years of Brexit uncertainty had taken its toll, other factors had also adversely impacted UK businesses: “Brexit isn’t the only headwind some of our businesses have been facing.
“There is a growing global trend of protectionism, trade disputes are on the rise and the multilateral business trading system has come under some threat. Businesses report to us that the cost of trading across borders is increasing.”
Dr Marshall said businesses had reported that the UK’s physical road and rail network was cracking at the seams, as was the digital infrastructure, while many had also had problems trying to recruit the right staff.
He added: “Regardless of the Brexit outcome, the repair job required to make the UK the best place in the world to invest and do business is substantial.
“We need to bring back confidence. We need help to do more trade, not just talk about it.
“It’s the trade deals between businesses that matter. It is business that unlocks new markets, creates jobs and boosts receipts to the Exchequer.”