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2 March, 2020 - 12:35 By Tony Quested

East of England region could net £345m from UK-US free trade deal

Cambridge and East of England companies will be in the front line of the UK’s battle for big-bucks deals under a free trade agreement with the United States, PM Boris Johnson believes.

The Government says that the region could net a £345 million boost from a new UK-US trade pact.

The PM outlined the UK’s negotiating objectives and said talks were expected to start this month. Illustrating its publicity push with the Union Jack flying in unison with the Stars and Stripes, the charm offensive began with a visit by International Trade Minister Graham Stuart to meet CEO and founder Julie Deane at the Cambridge Satchel Company which exports significantly to the States.

Other local companies highlighted for the launch campaign are also big sellers to America – namely Retrocorn in Colchester, James White Drinks in Ipswich and Motilal Books in St Albans.

A number of businesses in the East of England have already come out in support of an FTA, saying it would help them to trade more easily, according to a government press release. Stuart added that the proposed agreement formed part of the Government’s wider vision to level up economic growth across the whole UK.   

And Boris Johnson stressed that the negotiating objectives established that any future agreement must protect the NHS and uphold “our high standards on food safety and animal welfare.”

The proposed agreement would also include a chapter on digital trade, to maximise opportunities for businesses to trade digitally across the Atlantic. 

The US is the East of England’s largest export market, accounting for 14 per cent of the region’s goods exports: 3,774 businesses in the East of England collectively export £7,316 worth of goods to the US every minute. 
  
Boris Johnson said:  “We have the best negotiators in the business and of course, we’re going to drive a hard bargain to boost British industry.  

“Trading Scottish smoked salmon for Stetson hats, we will deliver lower prices and more choice for our shoppers. Most importantly, this transatlantic trade deal will reflect the unique closeness of our two great nations.” 

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss added: “Striking ambitious free trade agreements with our partners around the world is one of the key opportunities of Britain becoming an independent trading nation once again. 

“This deal with our biggest single trading partner will cut red tape for our small businesses, cut tariffs for our great products from dairy to cars and increase growth in all four nations.” 

The local businesses highlighted in the Government’s opening salvo of the FTA campaign are all hot gospellers for Anglo-US trade.

The Cambridge Satchel Company was founded in 2008 by Julie Deane and her mother Freda Thomas. They now employ 160 people and export more to the US than any other country. In 2019 the company exported £715,000 of goods to the US. 

Julie Deane  said: “I am very pleased to learn that the UK-US FTA is being worked upon; this agreement is of critical importance. The US was one of the first markets to really embrace and support The Cambridge Satchel Company with customers expressing their love of British style and manufacturing.   

“Many American celebrities including Taylor Swift, Emma Stone and Lady Gaga have been spotted with our bags, which has added to the demand from this market.” 

Colchester-based popcorn brand Retrocorn started selling its retro-style popcorn to the US two years ago. 

After securing a contract to work with a chain of 250 retail stores across the US, the company has seen continuous demand from US consumers, and the market now accounts for approximately 15 per cent of its total business. The company has plans to expand its presence in the US through an in-market distributor and hopes to grow its seven-strong team by three as part of its US strategy. 

Managing director Greg Taylor said: “Our business plan for 2020 is to reach more customers in the US with our products. An FTA could reduce the costs of import and could lead to the products being offered cheaper in the market, making it better value for money to the end consumer and more in line with other products. This would hopefully lead to an increase in sales and export volume for us.” 

The region exported £53 million worth of food and drink in the year to September 2019, amounting to over 31,000 tonnes. 

Specialised worldwide wholesaler of Indian published books Motilal Books, from St Albans, currently exports $500,000 worth of its books to the US and has doubled its sales to America in the past two years. 

As the biggest English book market in the world, the company sees huge potential for more growth, especially for their niche titles, into the US.  

Managing director Ray McLennan said:  “The UK is the natural launching pad to sell into the US and for all English-speaking countries. As the world’s centre for the creative industries the UK is very well accepted by the American markets.” 

Ipswich-based juice producer James White Drinks Ltd started selling its Beet It organic beetroot juice and concentrated beetroot sport shots in the US five years ago.  

By tapping into one of the largest consumer markets in the world, James White Drinks now sells $750,000 of its Beet It products a year in the US and demand is growing by around 25 per cent every year.   

Managing director Lawrence Mallinson said: “Having taken so long to work out a successful modus operandi in this very large but very challenging market, it is critical that a UK-US FTA is obtained quickly to enable us to capitalise on where we are now.  

“More co-operation on organic specifications, food security and labelling regulations should make it cheaper and easier to access the US market.” 

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