Russian sanctions are hurting North East firms, a senior civil servant has admitted on a visit to the region.
Sir Simon Fraser, the Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Secretary and head of the Diplomatic Service, visited Newcastle to meet businesses as part of Export Week activity.
His comments came after a number of firms in the region reported losses as a result of EU and Russian sanctions brought in over the crisis in Ukraine, including Tyneside subsea manufacturer SMD.
Speaking to The Journal, Sir Simon said: “We recognise the impact that sanctions have had on firms, and while that is regrettable, we cannot afford Russia to act without impunity.
“What it is important that we give the business community the best possible understanding of the markets available to them. There is huge opportunity for export across the world, and it’s our job to help businesses find them and exploit them.”
Sir Simon was speaking at UKTI’s flagship ExploreExport roadshow at Newcastle Racecourse where he met with businesses at a roundtable discussion on the Government’s support for exporting and how diplomacy affected firms.
Sir Simon said the North East had done a fantastic job at growing its exports, adding: “The North East is fantastic example of a region that has developed a trade surplus and it is something that firms here are rightfully proud of.”
More than 60 experts from across the world shared their expertise in one-to-one meetings with local businesses at the ExploreExport event which featured representatives from the North East Chamber of Commerce and UKTI North East.
In a separate discussion with The Journal, Sir Simon said a potential Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is currently under deliberation, could be a “game changer” for UK businesses.
Having been involved in much of the preliminary work around the deak during his role as chief of staff to then European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, Sir Simon said: “It’s a really important opportunity and the Government is absolutely right to concentrate its efforts in taking it forward.
“North America is just about the biggest market opportunity in the world for UK firms and this partnership could be a very significant piece of trade policy.”
David Coppock, regional director at UKTI, said: “The very essence of Export Week is to encourage the region’s businesses to consider their overseas potential and show how UKTI can help reach customers around the world.
“I strongly believe that most companies can and should export – from single-owner operations to large corporations. If you are successful in the UK, there is no reason why you can’t sell abroad, if you do your research and plan properly.
“At UKTI we know that striking out into new and unfamiliar territory can be daunting, but many more North East companies could and should be taking advantage of the opportunities international markets offer and the wide range of support UKTI provides.
“All the evidence shows that businesses new to exporting who use UKTI’s valuable range of services do better than trying to go it alone – and during Export Week there will be a host of events across the region to help show them the way.”