Liz Basing - UKTI East International Trade Director
Liz Basing's Civil Service career has spanned a range of HQ and regional roles, all with a business focus and including industry sponsorship, economic intelligence, grant appraisal on both national and European schemes and a stint in the then DTI strategy unit.
Liz was appointed UKTI deputy director for the East Midlands in 2004, leaving four years later to take up post as UKTI director for Poland. Her 15-strong team at the British Embassy in Warsaw helped hundreds of companies each year explore opportunities and grow their international business in sectors as diverse as engineering consultancy, satellite communications and financial services. She joined UKTI East as International Trade Director in May 2011.
UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) is the Government department that helps UK-based companies succeed in the global economy. It also help overseas companies bring their high-quality investment to the UK’s economy – acknowledged as Europe’s best place from which to succeed in global business. UKTI offers expertise and contacts through its extensive network of specialists in the UK, and in British embassies and other diplomatic offices around the world. It provides companies with the tools they require to be competitive on the world stage.
Q1 - How would you describe the appetite of East of England companies for exporting?
I’d describe it as very strong. Annual exports of goods from the East of England topped £25bn for the first time at the end of June. That was nearly 10 per cent of total UK exports. And it’s so important for the regional and the wider economy to keep this growth going. International trade is at the forefront of Government thinking now for very good reasons, not least because the companies that export tend to be the companies that grow and prosper most. An international dimension really benefits business, so it’s great to see exports from the East of England increasing and it’s our job at UKTI to help keep that momentum going.
Q2. Which markets are proving the most successful targets for our businesses?That’s an interesting question. Our highest volume markets are still the familiar trading partners like Germany, the US and France. There are still big opportunities in these markets and they can be pretty straightforward to get into, particularly for new and novice exporters, but you need to balance those relatively easier pickings with longer term prospects. So it’s great that we’re seeing rapid growth in exports to the emerging economies in Asia. Exports to India are up by over 40 per cent, Russia by a huge 65 per cent and even China imported 26 per cent more goods from this region this year than last.
Q3. What types of products and services from this region are in demand?You won’t be surprised if I tell you that our strengths in advanced engineering, ICT and hi-tech products and expertise make this region one of the first places overseas partners think of when they want to source from the UK. There’s a fantastic cluster of biotech, healthcare and IP development around Cambridge but the rest of the region has a top-flight offering, too. Take the winners of our East Meets East competition, promoting exporting to Asia. Top prize went to a Norwich business, PPI Engineering, that makes cutting-edge equipment for the energy industry, helping turn wind and wave power into electricity.
Q4. Are new target markets emerging or likely to emerge?We’re encouraging companies to look at high growth markets like the Asian economies I mentioned above and countries like Brazil, Egypt, Mexico and South Africa – the list is a long one and the opportunities are immense. Having said that, our exports to the EU continue to grow each quarter and we are seeing particularly strong performance in exports to Eastern Europe. So don’t let’s forget countries like Poland – the only EU economy not to dip into recession in the current global downturn. Poland is at the core of a grouping of markets in Central and Eastern Europe with plenty of opportunities for exporters of all sizes and levels of experience.
Q5. Do you have to be a large business to export successfully?Not at all. Most exporters, like most businesses, are SMEs. The key is identifying the markets to target, developing a strategy and building the key relationships in those markets to help you succeed. And there’s a great deal of help available from UKTI and other sources to give companies the very best chance of turning their plans into reality.
Q6. How can UKTI support more businesses in the current climate of pressure on resources?We have been increasing the number of businesses we support year on year ever since I’ve been working for UKTI. To keep that going and to meet even more ambitious targets, we are going to need to collaborate with all the other organisations that help business. We work with many partners already – Chambers of Commerce, of course, plus the banks, legal professionals and accountants that are already part of business life for our client companies. We work with business representative organisations of all kinds and with bodies like the Engineering Employers’ Federation, most of whose members export. We know that exporting is good for companies and we believe that what’s good for companies is good for all the other businesses and organisations that represent them and support them in their aspirations. We’d like to do more - with freight forwarders for example - and UKTI is planning a series of regional events specially designed to engage with the full range of players in this area. So watch this space!
Q7. What is the role of the UK embassies around the world in helping our businesses succeed overseas?That’s a good question for me because before I moved to the East of England I ran the UKTI team in the British Embassy in Warsaw (you might have spotted a plug earlier). Poland is one of 96 countries across the world where the embassies, high commissions and consulates have teams of trade advisers. In many ways these are the counterparts of our International Trade Advisers in the English regions – using their local knowledge and excellent business connections, they are the people who do the research and find the contacts for the UK companies we help. My ex-colleagues in Poland really do have the trick of identifying with the customer, which makes them a great team to work with, and I have particularly good memories of the brilliant promotional events we did for British companies in the new embassy building in Warsaw. But these days you won’t find many people in embassies who don’t see it as part of their job to work on the trade and investment agenda. It’s such a central part of the work of our overseas posts that everyone, from the Ambassador down, wants to get involved, and that helps us offer an even better service to companies.
Q8 How do our embassies help attract inward investment to the UK?Many of our embassies have dedicated people who promote the UK as a great destination for inward investment and work with companies that are considering setting up business here. The way we handle those opportunities has changed this year – we are now working to an agenda that puts the customer first and aims to identify the very best locations countrywide for any given inward investor. UKTI’s new Investment Services team manages the ‘home’ end of this system, working with the Local Enterprise Partnerships, and the commercial teams in our overseas posts feed their leads into a single pipeline so that prospective investors get a much clearer offer. At the regional level, trade and investment are coming much closer together, so my team will be able to support our work with potential investors by, for example, providing information on local supply chain options. And once companies are here we will make sure they are offered the UKTI trade services that will help them use the UK as a springboard to other markets.
Q9 How does UKTI tailor its help to companies with varying levels of experience in international business?The starting point for everything we do is to build a relationship with the client so our advisers can get a sense of the company’s level of experience and its aspirations for overseas markets. Then it’s a question of using the right UKTI services. For example, Passport to Export provides the training, expert support and advice to help new exporters assess their capability and begin their export journey. Our Gateway to Global Growth programme is for more experienced companies wanting help to take their exports to the next level. Our OMIS service effectively allows clients to use members of our expert teams overseas as a research, marketing and promotion resource and to access the contacts in the market that they need in order to grow. UKTI’s range of services can be tailored into a package to suit companies whatever their level of sophistication in international markets.
Q10 Lots of companies are exporting without your assistance. What can you offer to them?We know we only reach a proportion of the region’s exporters and to be honest that’s a bit frustrating. We could do so much more for companies in the region if they came forward and asked us for advice. It’s interesting that a market research project we are doing at the moment is turning up many examples of companies who are exporting, to a greater or lesser extent, but have not until now been aware of the help on offer from UKTI. These firms can be at any point on the spectrum from ‘accidental’ exporters who have enquiries from overseas through a website, to experienced export companies struggling to find the right strategy for a new market. We’re here to help and that’s good news for the companies we know and for the ones we are just making contact with. So if you're reading this and you think we could help your company, get in touch - you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can find out more about UKTI on our website - www.ukti.gov.uk - or telephone us on 08456 419955.