Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Export help tailored for medium-size businesses - the real catalyst for international trade?

The Trade Minister wants businesses to export, and he's sending personal letters to prove it.

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) announced today that Lord Livingston will write personally to the UK's 8,900 medium-sized businesses, offering individual assistance to expand to the EU and beyond.

Such news ties in nicely with all the buzz around export in the Herts Chamber. In our Year of International Trade, we are working our socks off to engage Hertfordshire, ripe for overseas countries' picking, in expanding on a global level. It was only Monday we were sitting down with government figures from Chengdu, all of whom had earmarked Hertfordshire as the county to import from.

Nonetheless, our growth in exports is still incredibly slow, clocking in at a mere 1.5% up on January 2013. Moreover, just 17% of UK mid-sized businesses garner business from non-EU countries, compared to 25% in Germany and 30% in Italy. It seems to me that the world is waiting for the UK to start exporting. Is there any tangible reason why businesses should not get stuck in, tapping into areas of rapid growth?

Even if the answers are glaringly obvious to some, the consistent pushes to grow international trade may result in the message becoming saturated. David Cameron and his 'World Trade Mission' in China is all very well, but this method of boisterous monologues to media outlets does not seem to have done the trick. People, especially people in business, prefer action over words about action.

This is where Lord Livingston and the UKTI may have the answer. The letter, and the personal offerings included within, are tangible. All the recipient has to do is say the word 'yes', and they have tailored resources at their disposal. Forgive me if this sounds slightly too intimate, but that may be the point. The mass message might, no matter how enthusiastic, not be engaging enough.

Maybe the future is direct contact? But that serves as a more general point, not to be expanded upon at this juncture.

I believe Lord Livingston's approach will work, the value of reaching out and providing tangible, personal support is nurtured in Herts Chamber, and it certainly works for us. The mass-media reported World Trade Mission, on the other hand, with its hope to inspire higher export trade, did not engage as many people as the Prime Minister would have hoped. The reason covers ground well trodden - actions are louder than words.

It may well turn out that this time, Lord Livingston's actions will bring the results.

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