The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that Britain's trade gap widened from £2.5bn in January to £3.4bn in February. Exports to struggling European economies such as Spain, Portugal and Greece are showing steep decline. This is a difficult time for Britain’s overseas partnerships.
But it is not all doom and gloom. There are rapidly growing markets where there are deals to be done for the right products and technologies. From India to Malaysia to Africa’s southern cone, the high potential areas for growth in emerging economies include sectors where Britain has expertise, such as automotive, mining, aerospace and oil exploration, says Professor Lord Bhattacharyya, Chairman of WMG.
Yet experience and expertise are only part of the story. We may live in a global market place, but every market is subtly different. Those companies who have developed successful partnerships know the key to success is understanding the needs of customers and suppliers in each market.
Often this means a presence on the ground, whether through a factory that integrates into the local supply chain, or through partnering with a business with market expertise. Ultimately, collaboration is about sharing expertise to meet market needs, whether through better products, better networks or better customer understanding. You have to know what you bring to the table, and value what others have to offer you.
The pressure of global competition requires a global standard of labour. Part of the attraction for companies looking at overseas investment is the skills base that countries like Britain and China have. There is great enthusiasm from young people for building their technical skills. There are experienced workforces who have developed their skills from their early days as apprenticeships through to specialised skilled craftsman.
So do we value businesses who invest in the UK, and the opportunities they give? Take Jaguar Land Rover and other companies who have been purchased by Indian firms. So why did they make these purchases? Because these companies offered something of value, whether product innovation, brand identity, or untapped research excellence. There is no denying Britain offers great value and opportunities. We have tremendous intellectual property and knowledge base. We don’t want to see this taken abroad we want to create the value in the UK, encouraging inward investment for our growth strategy.
Such investment could help British business collaborate far beyond our shores. Think of the opportunities for collaboration for those Midlands firms now developing relationships with some of India’s most successful businesses. How many are really seizing this chance aggressively, and looking to build partnerships in the Indian market?
We must not lose sight of the importance of partnerships in other emerging markets. I’ve recently returned from Malaysia where the economy is booming, with imports growing an astonishing 18% year on year. We need to be working together with growing businesses in such economies.
When we do this, it can have a profound effect on our own growth. Tata in the UK currently employers over 45,000 workers directly and a further hundred thousand indirectly. The Tata Group spent over £1.8 billion on R&D last year and this is set to rise.
Sadly, we in Britain can still make it difficult to cultivate such successful partnerships by putting up barriers. These are often cultural as much as business barriers.
We can approach partnership as if we are the only ones with something to offer. We have to understand that a collaboration is about both parties benefiting, and so everyone has to feel valued.
Britain needs to be more welcoming to enable our companies to benefit from global growth, especially those in the Midlands. I am already seeing a number of successes such as Bladon Jets who WMG are working with on a TSB funded project as well as the company having gained investment from Tata. If others follow their example then I am confident that we will succeed.