CBI calls for gazelles to spring into action on £20bn plan

The UK's largest business organisation wants the Government to give more help to mid-sized exporters.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 21 Nov 2011
It’s the CBI’s annual conference today, so it would be remiss of the organisation not to say something suitably headline-grabbing to get us all in the mood. Step forward John Cridland, the organisation’s director-general, who said this morning that he wants the Government to put a lot more of its resources into helping small and mid-sized companies (known as ‘gazelles’) export, specifically to developing economies. By his reckoning, focusing more on sorting out the trade deficit (the amount the UK exports, minus the amount it imports) and exporting to countries like Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico and Indonesia would add another £20bn (that’s 11% of GDP) to the economy by 2020. Tell us something we didn’t know...

Cridland isn’t the first to extol the benefits of exporting - in fact, one of the first things the Government did when it got into power was to promise an extension to the Export Credit Guarantee Scheme, which insures exporters. But the CBI says export over the past decade has been ‘lacklustre’. Indeed: according to the organisation’s stats, the UK’s share of the global export market has fallen from 5.3% in 2000, to just 4.1% in 2010 - even as Germany’s share has risen, from 8.9% to 9.3%.

Our main problem, though, is who we’re exporting to. The UK’s main export markets are the US, where it sends 17% of its exports, followed by countries in Western Europe - ie. the exact economies the European debt crisis is currently crippling. BRIC countries, on the other hand, only make up 4% of UK exports. So you can see why the CBI reckons we have a problem.

The organisation says it wants to increase net exports from -2.4% in 2010, to 2.5% in 2016 - that’s 29% of GDP last year, driven by sectors with high-growth potential, like construction services, communication services, electrical goods, optical and high-tech goods, the creative industries, and financial services.

Now this is all well and good, but it’s not like the Government hasn’t put effort into trying to drum up business abroad in the past. Apart from extending the Export Credit Guarantee Scheme, David Cameron has also led trade missions to the likes of India and China, even buttering up a Chinese trade delegation and helping to secure deals for, among others, Rolls-Royce. So it’s arguable that the CBI is merely paying lip-service to a problem the Government has already recognised.

Nevertheless, with Europe falling down around our ears, growing the UK’s export market is a serious issue - in fact, it may be the only way the economy can shield itself from the dramas unfolding over the channel. We’ll hear plenty more about what David Cameron, William Hague et al think about the issue as the conference unfolds, so stay tuned - or follow MT on Twitter @mt_editorial.

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