A vital hub to build exporting activity

Julie Underwood, the Chamber’s international trade director, highlights some of the trade missions which are helping the region’s businesses to forge vital contacts as part of the bid to increase North East exports

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The world is your oyster could be a term coined for international trade in our region although with the Brexit situation it is maybe more like the curate’s egg, good in parts.

We have a tremendous global exporting tradition in the North East and I’m extremely proud to work at the heart of it, leading the Chamber’s international trade team.

As many of you will know we were established to combine resources over 200 years ago and growing trade across the globe was, and remains to be, one of the Chamber’s key aims and aspirations. Back in those days Chamber members even enabling obstructions to be removed from the Tyne, to allow ships to be loaded for export.

Today we are a vital hub of exporting activity around the world. Indeed, as you read this, I will have just completed a trade mission to Atlanta with a number of regional tech companies, looking for new marketplaces.

In Atlanta we ensured our delegates utilised the strong foundation already in place, with great North East-based businesses such as Sage plc and Womble Bond Dickinson, having US headquarters there. These two major companies have been hugely supportive of our mission.

On the trip the businesses were given guidance on Atlanta politics and US politics as a whole, which are not always as they seem from ‘across the pond’. There were also briefings on the state as a marketplace, emerging markets and the local economy.

Despite having no language barrier doing business in America is different to here so we also ensured our delegates learnt the most effective way to make useful connections by working with partners, such as the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the British American Business Council and the Atlanta-based teams of Womble Bond Dickinson and Sage plc and the Department for International Trade.

We tailored this trade mission towards the tech sector and were fortunate enough to get a detailed briefing on US tech trends led by Sage’s chief marketing officer together with other specialist talks by leaders in the tech clusters in Atlanta, Protection of Data, Artificial Intelligence and Financial Services sectors.

A mission to Boston has also been a successful annual event. One of the most insightful parts of these visits is the opportunity to meet British businesses who have already entered the US market and these candid sessions are always invaluable. The trade mission delegates participated in a panel discussion with businesses from Newcastle, which have successfully opened offices in Boston.

We arrange these trips, with the Department for International Trade to help our regional companies make invaluable connections which would be difficult to create from the UK alone. When we arranged the first mission five years ago we knew there would be great synergy between our region and the Boston business network and it has paid off handsomely. Half a dozen Chamber members travelled to Atlanta in late March, including Waterstons and Grid Smarter Cities. We look forward to hearing their success stories in due course.

Keeping with the American theme we also encourage members to look at Latin American markets. There are often misconceptions about trading with this region but make no mistake there are 600 million people living there with half of them being middle class consumers. The marketplace for consumer products, even high end goods, is huge.

Sometimes people assume this region is a homogenous block but there are distinct differences between the various countries within it. The Pacific Alliance countries such as Chile, Colombia and Peru for example, are open to trade but could exhibit non-tariff barriers and are pretty price-competitive.

Conversely Uruguay is very democratic and predominately middle-class with residents with good disposable incomes. Businesses who want to sell to Latin America often find it expedient to use Uruguay as the route to market as the port is fast and unbureaucratic, and goods can then be moved to other countries such as Brazil and Argentina through land-based customs routes more easily.

You can see the potential from around the globe through these opportunities. We also promote marketplaces at the other side of the world, namely China and South East Asia.

Two years running we have supported home-grown businesses to attend the world-leading Shanghai food and drink expo. North East company Noveltea has found this to be particularly beneficial.

We have a regular programme of workshops for anyone interested in exporting but unsure where to start as well as country-specific events such as South East Asia on 16 April.

Practical support on how to deliver contracts overseas is also available with our extremely knowledgeable international trade team at the Chamber (who complement DIT International Trade Advisers’ on-the-ground business advice). This team is headed up by Jacqui Tulip, who has a substantial experience in customs compliance, shipping goods overseas and how to get paid. We also give specific advice on what type of certification and papers are needed, plus regular advice workshops on a whole range of subjects.

"Rewards are already being seen of this region’s potential. North East exports have risen 134 per cent over the last 10 years to the Middle East & North Africa (2007-2017), up from £271m to £635m."