The Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner for AusTrade has been briefing businesses at a special Department for International Trade event at Sci-Tech Daresbury, the Northern Powerhouse’s high tech science and innovation campus, and he’s not ready to slow down.
Joining our team for a working lunch, he’s yet to even look at the menu before warming to his favourite theme of the moment: the opportunities for British businesses in a post-Brexit world.
“I’m encouraging British businesses with great products and services to export,” he enthuses. “I really want aspirational UK businesses to see the excellent opportunities that are available in the Australian marketplace.
Australia has much to offer in terms of cultural synergies and being a welcoming business environment. It’s a stable, high performing economy with a lot of growth potential - and it’s also a highly accessible gateway into the whole of the Asia-Pacific region. On top of this, it hasn’t experienced a recession for some 26-years.”
With the UK Chancellor’s recent Budget downgrading Britain’s growth and productivity forecasts, there’s no doubt that economic confidence in Britain is tumbling in the face of Brexit headwinds. What can the UK do to rebuild fragile business confidence?
The answer is simple, according to Watson.
“You’ve got to get back to basics and rediscover the British Bulldog spirit,” he argues. “That’s what made Britain great in the first place. You were pioneers out in the world with a sense of adventure and self-belief. You need to re-harness that spirit now! These are uncertain times for the UK but also for the whole globe and it isn’t all doom and gloom.”
Watson’s typically Australian perspective is to confront the painful truths and reframe these into seeking out new opportunities on offer.
“Australia has been here also,” he stresses. “In 1973 Australia lost most of its export market when the UK joined the European Economic Community. At that time, we did 70% of our trade with the UK and we lost that market almost overnight. It was hugely unsettling at the time – politically, emotionally and economically for Australia.
“But if you fast forward 40 years it’s the best thing that ever happened to us. We went on to build all these amazing trading relationships with Asia and the US where there is enormous growth potential and new opportunities for Australian businesses. We built a more resilient economy that was not over reliant on one major trading partner. Australia needed a can-do attitude and courage and we dug deep and found those strengths. This is what the UK needs now.”
As our working lunch comes to an end, Elizabeth Vega, our Global CEO reflects on how exporting has helped grow and develop Informed Solutions’ business. Vega is warm and sincere in her praise of the support that Austrade and the UK Department for International Trade (DIT) have offered Informed Solutions. “We have been the grateful recipients of freely offered expert advice, helpful professional insight and guidance, connections into the best possible industry networks and valuable introductions that have served us very well.” She acknowledges. “We want to pay that forward to other UK businesses that are thinking of exporting. As a DIT UK Export Champion, we’re always eager to loudly beat a drum on the benefits of trading overseas and encouraging businesses to think beyond UK and European borders.”
In respect of the benefits to Informed Solutions’ business, Vega added, “The business growth through exporting was clearly pre-planned but there have been other unexpected benefits. Doing business in another country enables us to offer international secondments and this is a very attractive perk that helps us recruit and retain talented young graduates with valuable skills. The time zone differences have accelerated our team developing high performing 24/7 working practices that aren’t too much of a ‘shift-work’ type burden. Our investment in an upgraded global service delivery platform and finance systems has increased efficiencies and reduced costs in all areas of the business. Most unexpectedly, having really diverse and internationally distributed teams has encouraged greater tolerance and acceptance of cultural differences in styles of communication and working, which better serves our customers and staff alike.”
At a time when the number of UK businesses trading internationally is decreasing, with latest figures showing that over a million fewer SMEs are trading in 2017 and only 22 per cent plan to export in the next quarter, Watson’s and Vega’s call to action seems more relevant than ever.
All the more so when you consider that the International Monetary Fund predicts 90% of global growth over the next two decades will come from outside Europe.
So maybe it’s time that the UK remembered its British Bulldog traits of courage and resilience, rediscovered its sense of adventure and embraced the ambition to grow and export!