SME exporters in Leeds, big corporates in Canary Wharf, Australian inward investors in Manchester. I’ve spent a busy few days supporting the UK economy, which is the top priority for our overseas network.
At an export seminar in Leeds hosted by the big international law firm DLA Piper, I spoke about the many export opportunities in the Australian market, which continues to outperform the rest of the OECD. I noted that our exports to Australia hit £10 billion for the first time in 2011, roughly 60/40 services to goods.
Thanks to the strong dollar and the booming economy UK exports to Australia have grown by 66 % (goods) and 85% (services) over the last five years, with particularly strong performances in sectors like road vehicles, telecoms, beverage, machinery. That is a very useful contribution to our Government’s target to double global exports by 2020.
Questions from the SMEs ranged from the specific “how are the opportunities in e-commerce?” (answer: excellent), to the general “how do you cope with the long distance and 11 hour time difference?” (answer: make lots of use of video conferencing, webinars and other technology.)
With a group of large corporates convened by the CBI, in a high rise office in Canary Wharf, there was much interest in the detailed implications of the slowing commodity boom and future relations between Australia and China. They were also interested to discuss the possible impact of next year’s general election on things like resource taxes and government spending plans.
In Manchester I visited several Australian inward investors to learn about their experiences in Britain. They ranged from a small high-tech software company, to large engineering consultancies. They told a consistent story: the UK was attractive not just because of our domestic market, but because of our skills base, and the opportunity to use Britain as a platform from which to tackle opportunities in Europe and the Middle East.
It was good to see the city centres of the great Northern capitals of Manchester and Leeds bustling with activity. I thought the business mood seemed a bit more optimistic, despite the continuing sluggishness of the Eurozone. And wherever I went there was a lot of interest in the opportunities which the Australian market offers.
I described how our UK Trade & Investment team, spread across five Australian cities, can help by providing information and contacts, market research, and help with media and promotional events.