Priti Patel is an elected Member of the Conservative Party Board, the 1922 Committee’s Executive and the Public Administration Select Committee. She is also a member of the Party’s Policy Board, the Prime Minister’s India Diaspora Champion and MP for Witham.
As the British economy recovers, with more jobs being created, new businesses coming into existence and growth returning, we have the most significant opportunity in a generation to strengthen our economic foundations by enhancing our global trading links. Britain has historically been a trading nation, and we must return to that pioneering spirit of the past to secure investment and business opportunities in new and emerging markets. Conservatives in Government have had success in expanding the UK’s exports and it is vital that this continues.
Our traditional trading partners in Europe, whom the UK’s attention has been focused on since we joined the European Economic Community, can no longer provide us with large enough markets for our exports. The Eurozone is barely getting by, and countries like France are suffering from socialist economic mismanagement that has caused foreign investment to dry up. Around 64 per cent of UK exports go the EU or USA but we must now seek to boost trade with other countries, especially as average annual growth in the emerging markets is set to be, according to the IMF, eight per cent compared to four per cent for advanced economies. By 2010, Britain had fallen significantly behind our international rivals at establishing strong trading links with emerging markets, and a CBI report last year noted that other major exports have a stronger presence in the BRICs. Britain’s growing army of exporting businesses are eager for new, dynamic and growing markets to secure trade with, but were let down by the last Labour Government.
Labour woefully ignored and neglected new trading opportunities, and during my decade in the private sector, working for multinational firms and working overseas, the United Kingdom was never considered to be the partner of choice when trade opportunities materialised. By contrast, the Prime Minister and Conservatives in Government have been spearheading efforts to increase exports with positive results being delivered. Last week alone, Greg Barker, the Climate Change Minister, led one of many trade delegations to India and spoke of how that relationship has flourished, with trade to set to double by 2015 on top of the UK’s position as the third largest investor in India.
The Government’s ambition to compete and win the global race, and double the annual value of exports to £1 trillion by 2020 is laudable. It is a challenging target, not least because this Government started from a low base inherited from Labour. By 2011, the UK’s share of global exports had fallen to three per cent, almost half the level of 1980. Although there has been a global trend showing that exports by developed countries have been falling, some developed countries like Germany have managed to buck this trend and maintain their share of the export market. We must also be a country that also defies this trend and stands above our international competitors.
This is why the export target set by the Prime Minister, although ambitious, can be met and surpassed. To do so, British firms must remain competitive through pro-market pro-growth domestic policies; and must be supported by the Government continuing to build on its diplomatic focus on increasing trade.
On the domestic front, the actions taken by Conservative Ministers to help firms keep their costs down and to create a business friendly Britain are having a positive impact. Cuts to corporation tax, reductions to the burden on employers by national insurance contributions, and the increasing of the export finance capacity to £50 billion are giving firms the confidence to seek out new markets to export to. The scrapping or amending of some 3,000 regulations affecting small businesses is also providing British based firms a chance to save money and refocus their resources on more economically productive activities. By helping businesses to strengthen their roots here, the Government is giving them the foundations, flexibility, competitiveness and confidence to turn their attention to overseas markets.
To back these domestic policies up, Conservatives in Government have taken radical steps to transform our diplomatic activities to place trade at the centre of our interactions with other countries. The Prime Minister has led numerous international trade delegations to raise awareness in key emerging markets of the benefits of strengthening trading ties with the UK and to help seal deals. As a result, trade with emerging markets is on the up and a remarkable difference between the performance of this Government and the last Labour Government is clear. Since 2010, for example, exports to China have increased by 91 per cent and to Russia by 118 per cent. It is no coincidence that the improvement in export performance has happened under the watch of this Government.
The potential economic expansion of emerging markets is staggering and Conservatives should always champion UK business and be proactive in supporting UK firms to satisfy these countries’ appetites for foreign goods and services from more developed countries. In India, a country the Prime Minister has visited on three occasions, demographic changes and a growing middle class will transform the economy and raise demand for goods and services that Britain can provide. By 2030, the size of the global workforce is set to grow by 300 million. 200 million will come from India, while the percentage of India’s working age population will be higher than its fellow BRIC countries in the second quarter of this century. A research paper from Goldman Sachs published in June 2010, India Revisited, emphasised the opportunities this would bring with such favourable demographics increasing wealth. The Prime Minister has made clear he wants Britain to be India’s partner of choice and by placing British firms in prime position to export to India and other emerging markets, our exports will continue to grow leading to job creation in the UK.
Just as the BRICs, MINTs and other emerging markets have near limitless capacity and a burgeoning appetite to receive exports from Britain, there is considerable untapped potential within existing UK firms to export – only 20 per cent of UK small and medium sized enterprises compared to the EU average of 25 per cent. The Government has recognised that more of our SMEs should be exporting and should be commended for raising awareness of this and campaigning to boost SME exports. Thousands of new jobs stand to be created each year through increasing the number of exporting companies.
British goods and services carry with them a badge of quality, which overseas markets desire. In my own constituency, businesses like Crittall Windows and jam-makers Wilkin and Sons, are world leaders in their sectors. Other British businesses have also been showing strong performances in emerging markets. British car manufacturers, including makers of luxury cars, are exporting in large numbers to China, exports of Scotch Whisky are soaring, and engineering firm EDM has established itself in China.
The pioneering zeal of these exporters is creating jobs and growth in Britain and the Government’s focus on supporting and encouraging more firms to follow in these footsteps is absolute. We are competing in a very tough global market place, but with strong political leadership Britain can outperform our competitors. Britain’s army of entrepreneurs can be confident that Conservatives will remain firmly committed to providing that leadership, backing British exports, winning more trade for this country and succeeding in the global race.