The new head of UK Trade and Investment has urged SMEs across the region to “be brave” and seize available support to explore exporting to foreign markets.
UKTI chief executive Dominic Jermey met with local UKTI leaders, the North East Chamber of Commerce and several businesses yesterday during his first official visit to the region since his appointment as head of the Government department in May.
Mr Jermey heaped praise upon the North East for being the only region in the country with a positive balance of trade in the export market, exporting £14.125bn of goods to every continent in the world, and for creating two of the UK’s biggest inward investment success stories in Nissan and Hitachi Europe Ltd.
However, he said UKTI must now focus on encouraging smaller operations to dip their toe into overseas markets.
“There are two things I have focussed on in terms of all that is really working around exports and inward investment and here in the North East we have one past and one future, in Nissan, which is something we all talk about as a perfect example, and Hitachi.
“We are looking at what is going to happen with Hitachi, and that’s really exciting. We collectively, as local and national government, local MPs, trade organisations, local UKTI and Tokyo, got this worked out with Hitachi so that in 2012 the flag went up.
“Hitachi is a major investment in this part of the world but it will also drive exports from the port right across the rest of the world – and I really feel it will be as successful as Nissan.
“But what do we need to do to persuade SMEs, in particular the medium sized enterprises, to export? This is a much more exporting region in the main, but there are still companies out there who are not quite there.
“I think it’s our job to de-risk. We are trying to reduce the risk as much as possible, for example by making it as easy as possible to access support, credit guarantees and through market analysis.
“What people are telling me is that it’s lack of awareness of how much much they can be supported over the pain threshold. We are looking at how to get that out there, to be helped to be brave.”
Mr Jermey came to the top office in UKTI after four years as British Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and he has a wealth of experience having previously taken on the managing director role of UKTI’s Sectors Group for three years, helping 11,000 of the UK’s most innovative companies to do business around the world. He was also acting chief executive for UKTI in 2009.
Before he took up the role, the Government laid down a challenge for Britain’s business community to double annual exports to £1tn and increase the number of UK exporters by 100,000 by 2020.
In 2007 Europe was the most popular export destination, with 51% going to the continent, but UKTI has recently opened doors into emerging African markets.
Mr Jermey added: “We are trying to make is as easy as possible for firms to look at countries like India and Nigeria and we are trying to put our recorces into hese emerging markets. We’re also now in 21 markets in Africa and five new markets in Latin America.
“My message to the North East SME community is to be brave. There’s an awful lot of support there to help you internationalise and export so speak to your banks and talk to the UKTI.”