With impeccable timing after the Prime Minister’s tough defence of Britain’s national interest last night, today’s trade figures (pdf) are great news for the British economy. They demonstrate the importance of trading with the whole world, not just Europe.
In October, the UK exported goods and services worth £41.9 billion, and we sold goods to non-EU countries worth £26.5 billion – the highest figures ever recorded. The trade deficit, the amount more we buy from overseas than we export abroad, fell from £4.3 billion in September to just £1.5 billion in October. We sold £895 million of goods and services to China, up £101 million in the last month, meaning China is now our 7th largest export market, over-taking Spain and Italy. These are clear signs that despite the economic gloom in Europe, British businesses are not just still selling overseas, but are selling more than ever before.
British companies are selling tea to China, naan bread to India and canoes to the Eskimos. Firms all over the country – for example in Haverhill in my own constituency – are fulfilling a growing demand for high tech manufacturing goods like pharmaceuticals, and top end services like insurance an accountancy from fast-growing nations. The UK is at its best when our companies are competing around the world. And we are doing all we can to support this, cutting red tape, lowering taxes for businesses, and helping get credit flowing again. We start from a low base. We still export more to each of Germany and France than to Brazil, Russia, China and India combined. It won’t be easy, and under Labour, Britain slid down the rankings of competitiveness.
But I have always been an optimist about what the growth of the East means for us. Of course we must become more competitive. And their burgeoning middle classes are becoming the markets of the future. Often exporting to these markets – not just in China, but Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brazil, India an others – means acting differently to doing business in the West. Involvement of Government and Ministers is much more important in unlocking doors for sales. We cannot be shy and shirk that responsibility, and it is critical we keep that work at full tilt.
Today's figures show Britain's businesses are seizing those opportunities like never before. With turmoil in the eurozone it has never been more important than now to trade with the whole world.