International trade challenge and opportunity in the South West

International trade challenge and opportunity in the South West

Asked to describe the South West region’s main international challenge and opportunity, Linda Middleton-Jones explains from her perspective:

It is established wisdom that for a region or country to be vibrant, progressive and economically strong, it embraces the advantages it has.

Certainly, this region has many exciting and natural advantages from sector strengths in energy, food & drink, marine, aerospace, tourism and technology.

Regionally, we push boundaries within our universities, science parks and clusters – whether that be composites, photonics, agri-tech or even through our successful cider and craft beer industry.  We are creative, we are innovative, we are disruptors.  We have a super computer (in the top 50 worldwide), we have Europe’s largest construction project at Hinkley and even the opportunity of a space station. We have companies developing cutting edge haptic technology right through to companies selling date palm shoots to Saudi Arabia.

Across the board, across the region we have those advantages.

The South West boasts a wealth of internationally renowned individuals, past and present, whilst the UK enjoys a reputation for innovation and quality, although the world is left somewhat bemused by our humour…

We have a glorious heritage of famous explorers, traders and inventors born, bred or inspired by this region.  From Drake through to Chris Dawson, from Trevithick through to Chris Martin, Captain Scott to Damian Hirst – names of those past and present that give us a global identity, a place in the world.

And then there is our place.  The perfect place for so many reasons, a challenging place in light of connectivity but still, a perfect place.

These things we have, but in looking forward I would particularly like to focus on trade.

Secretary of State, Dr. Liam Fox spoke at an event in Bristol recently.  He said “Trade is not an end in itself, it is a means of spreading prosperity. That matters because, prosperity underpins social cohesion, and social cohesion contributes to political stability and political stability is the building block of our collective security.”

That makes absolute sense. The derived value of an outward looking economy means many things, all positive, all designed to give a sense of worth, a sense of achievement and a reinforcement of being a part of the world.

Imagine if you will, a looking glass.   Your looking glass can be big, small, pink, fluffy – imagine what you will.   Now I want you to stretch that vision and see on one side the South West, the other the rest of the world.  The reason I do this is because perceptions are important, and we need to understand the views of others and indeed ourselves.

Let me deal with the world first, what do they see when they look at us?  The world generally sees us as three things:  a nation with heritage, a nation that is innovative and a nation that provides quality.  A nice glossy image that encourages trust, admiration and sometimes to be honest, bemusement at our sense of humour.  Those attributes together with the advantage of minimal legislation when compared to the rest of the world, our skills base, our level of technology and innovation, low taxation rates, English being ‘the business’ language, and great IP protection –  we sparkle!

Magnify-market-search-looking-glass-export-challenges-01Now let’s turn the looking glass on ourselves.  It seems that there is a tendency to look inward, to remain as tribal as we ever were.  This is evidenced in our parochialism.  There appears to be very little drive or ambition to approach overseas markets.  Companies seem to react to overseas enquiries rather than taking the choice to plan for export.  A significant amount of companies have no conception of the requirements of customs documentation and the confusion caused by the media over negotiations on Brexit has given many an excuse to delay future planning for growth. There is no urgency to replace or underpin European relationships.

It is fair to say that the general perception of regional businesses is introspective. The region is dominated by SME’s who do not see the relevance of an international agenda and there has been no coordinated campaign across delivery agents to engage and support them.

DIT is now almost completely invisible in the region and seemingly dominated by achieving “outputs” set by London regardless of the commercial opportunity. Local outputs and targets should be set that are relevant and aspirational, targets that are set by discussion, cooperation and collaboration between DIT, the Chambers, the Institute of Export and those already pushing that international agenda.

Equally, there is a clear and urgent need for a coordinated and focused push on promoting commercial Britain overseas with sustained (and not one off) efforts.  We have a way to go…


If you are looking to develop a sustainable export plan or wish to investigate the possibilities available in overseas markets, contact International Trade Matters Ltd today to see how we can help. Download the latest information leaflet here


Linda Middleton-Jones is Managing Director and International Marketing Strategy, Export Coach & Mentor for International Trade Matters Ltd