UK needs a long-term export strategy and not quick fixes, says CBI

Ben Digby

A long-term, cross-government strategy, rather than short-term initiatives and campaigns, is the best way for the UK to export more and be a leading trading nation post-Brexit, according to a new CBI report.

Winning Worldwide, published ahead of the Department for International Trade’s new Export Strategy, sets out a raft of practical proposals for the Government to take to support exporters, increase the number of firms selling their goods and services overseas and help British businesses to be more internationally minded.

CBI analysis has shown that the more firms export, the more competitive, productive and innovative they are. Yet, despite exporters generating 30.5% of the UK’s GDP and the high profile of the British brand, less than 10% of firms actually export and the country’s export performance has declined continually for 20 years, with competitors such as Germany far outperforming the UK in the last decade. Among other measures to remedy this, the UK’s largest business group is proposing:

  • Deputy Heads of Mission in British Embassies be given new responsibilities for trade and export promotion in countries across the globe
  • A high-profile business person be appointed HM Chief Trade Ambassador to champion exports. More UK trade missions should also be led overseas, with a greater focus on individual sectors and countries
  • The Department for Education and business jointly review the teaching of foreign languages in schools, and the Mandarin Excellence programme and a similar programme for Arabic is expanded
  • A combined industrial strategy and exports strategy with greater joined-up collaboration between the Department for Business (BEIS) and DIT.

Ben Digby, CBI International Director, said:“Rarely has the demand for Brand Britain been so high. From cars to consultancies, and fashion to FinTech, the quality and instant recognisability of UK plc products and services is a tremendous national asset.

“We have a fantastic base on which to build a lasting and durable exports strategy that will ultimately lead to many more of our world class companies selling their goods and services around the globe. And all at the very moment the UK is busy looking to deepen trade ties in every corner of the globe, post-Brexit.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint though. To succeed where others have stumbled, the Government must take a long-term approach to exports that sticks, instead of headline grabbing short-term initiatives. First, by starting at home – twinning industrial and export strategies and ensuring employees are more globally minded. Then, by focusing on delivery as much as strategy, with every department asking: what can we do to spur trade?

“DIT can play a vital role in coordinating that effort across Whitehall. And by bolstering the support on offer through our Embassies, we can boost the number of firms exporting and providing strong competition on the global trading stage.

“Ultimately, it is businesses that trade though, not the Government. As firms look forward to the Government’s Export Strategy, their needs must remain at the heart of the UK’s approach to trade, as we both seek to create a truly global Britain.”