EXCLUSIVE: Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, Vince Cable, tells the Gazette Teesside has a pivotal role to play in international trade.
TEESSIDE and the North-east of England have a vital role to play in this country’s future economic growth - a future where international trade will be increasingly important.
Every day businesses from the region already take decisions about where to source materials, about whether to invest in a joint venture or about how to break into a new market.
While the largest export market for goods from the region is the US (worth £1.76bn), figures show how countries such as the Netherlands (£1.69bn), Spain (£829m), Germany (£718m), Russia (£580m) and Turkey (£293m) are growing in importance.
In trade terms, current signs are positive. The total value of exports from North-east England in the last 12 months (to end of Q3 2010) was £11.26bn, which is within a half billion of the peak value recorded prior to the economic downturn.
The region is particularly strong when it comes to exports in the automotive and pharmaceutical sectors, worth £3.64bn and £2.31bn respectively and, of course, these support important supply chains.
However encouraging as these local trade figures are, there are still larger problems in the national economy.
The coalition Government was forced to take tough decisions to cut the deficit and reduce unsustainable public sector spending, and we know that this will mean difficult choices at a local level.
With public sector employment accounting for 29% of all employment in the region, making publicly funded job creation higher than any region except the West Midlands, the current position is simply not sustainable over the long term.
This coalition Government is intent on doing all it can to create the right conditions for private sector-led growth - including reducing burdensome regulation and encouraging more lending to small and medium-sized firms - and is putting international trade and investment into the UK at the heart of its plans.
The region is already home to some notable export success stories. Teesside-based Sembcorp, a global leader in marine and offshore engineering, accompanied me on a trip to India in January and has growing operations in Singapore, Asia and the Middle East. Dielife, based in Middlesbrough, has customers in India, Russia, Spain, France, Italy and Pakistan. Astrum, from Stanhope, has won business from Government-supported trade missions to the Middle East, Asia and South America. While Thornaby-based Cleveland Cascades is a Queen’s Award winner with increasing business conducted in France.
This Government is keen to encourage more companies from the North-east, large and small, to take advantage of export opportunities, and the support offered by UK Trade & Investment. The fact remains that the UK is still a great trading nation. It is the world’s sixth largest exporter and second largest investor in foreign markets. We are home to world-beating businesses and business sectors, many of which have built up a strong presence in the world’s big developed markets, especially in the rest of Europe, the US and Japan.
This month the Government is publishing a Trade & Investment White Paper which sets out its thinking and plans for boosting export growth over the long-term. Aiming to build a strong economy, not an economy based on unsustainable levels of debt and taxpayer-funded employment but one where more British companies start selling their high quality products and services to rapidly growing emerging markets such as India, China and Brazil. And an export-led economy that creates jobs and growth.
I know the companies from Teesside and across the North-East region have a role to play.