IoD: ‘UK must boost trade with both EU and rest of world’

The European Union has seen stronger growth as a market for UK exporters than either Asia or North America over the past 2 years, a new survey from the Institute of Directors reveals. 43% of directors surveyed reported seeing most growth for their business in the EU over the time period, while less than half that figure (21%) pointed to North America, with the same proportion also citing Asia. Though business leaders saw potential in these two areas in the next 5 years, the EU remains the region with the highest expectations for growth. The poll of almost 800 directors found that 64% are engaged in outbound trade, up 7 percentage points since 2013 and significantly outstripping the national average. For those that did not trade internationally, the EU would be the first port of call for potential exporters.

A quarter of those that sell internationally said Brexit would be a catalyst for stepping up non-EU market engagement, while around a third said it was not a factor but that they were already in the process of stepping up such engagement. Business leaders said the best government facilitator for trade is agreements which reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers with third countries.

In a new report, Going Global: Trends in Trade, the IoD called for the Government and businesses to work closely together in order to develop a truly ‘Global Britain’ strategy. The IoD urged the Government to use the next 18 months heading into Brexit transition to consult on and develop a comprehensive trade agenda for the medium term that successive governments can follow through. In particular, it said the Department for International Trade must feed into the upcoming Immigration Bill to make sure that labour mobility is a key cross-departmental focus and ensure, alongside DExEU colleagues, the continuity of existing trade agreements.

Allie Renison, Head of Europe & Trade Policy at the Institute of Directors, said:

“Trade is clearly on the up – a remarkable 64% of IoD members are now active in overseas markets. But there is no room for complacency – the immediate focus should be on reaching a successful deal with the EU that puts maintaining market access at the heart of its priorities. Steadying the ship will enable the UK to navigate a clear path to a truly global future.

“The importance of the EU as a growth market for IoD members combined with the clear advantage that business leaders see in new trade agreements shows just how eager businesses are to embrace global Britain. Our members are already showing the strength of British business on the world stage, but the statistics also show that we need to get real about trade, and fast. Going global is as much about opportunities in Europe as it is further afield, and this should be reflected in how the Government shapes post-Brexit Britain.

“Businesses will always be those on the frontline of international trade, if the Government is to fulfil its global promise, it has to engage with the business community to ensure they feel adequately supported in the coming years.”