Tuesday, March 23, 2021

New UK Wide Trade Hubs Announced - But What Exactly Will They Do?

Government Expresses Wish to Promote Exports Countrywide
Shipping News Feature

UK – The government has announced it is to open four major new trade and investment hubs in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the North-East of England to 'boost trade and investment and level-up the country'.

The devil is of course in the detail and, given this administration’s record on understanding the complexities of the supply chain, it is fair to say that the freight sector looks on with a degree of puzzlement as to what exactly the new, and substantial, investment in staff and premises is setting out to achieve.

Not all however are so sceptical, with a positive response to the Department for International Trade’s (DIT) announcement today of the opening of offices in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and Darlington, with Sarah Laouadi, Manager of European & International Policy at Logistics UK saying:

“The creation of trade hubs in all four UK nations will help to ensure the economic benefits of the government’s global trade policy are felt across the countries. To unlock new opportunities to grow international trade, businesses stepping into new export markets, including SMEs, need access to specialist advice which the trade hubs intend to offer. We are looking forward to seeing the hubs in action as our members start using the services to expand their international activities.

”While we welcome the government’s support for those trading with the rest of the world, our members continue to rely on imports from and exports to the EU, which remains our biggest trading partner; UK businesses would therefore benefit from similar high-quality advice and support in navigating the new trading relationship with the EU.”

Note that last comment, the failure of the authorities to fully grasp the meaning of Brexit still rankles all across the supply chain community. So what does the government feel this move can achieve? The stated intention is to ‘be part of a new strategy to boost exports and bring the benefits of the government’s global trade policy to the whole of the UK, including benefits from future free trade agreements with the US, Australia, New Zealand and CPTPP (the Pacific Free Trade area)’.

Certainly such dealings have been traditionally been ‘London centric’ and the government says regional exporters will now have a direct feed to take advantage of fast-growing markets like the Indo-Pacific region. The trade hubs will also intend to create a link between the regions and the resources of the Office for Investment, a joint initiative, with an exceedingly wide portfolio including infrastructure, net zero etc., with the Prime Minister’s Office, to channel investment money into every UK nation and region.

And that aspiration points toward why the announcement today, as the government scrambles to prove it is supporting the whole of the UK, a noble ambition, but how does it propose to effect this? According to the announcement the trade hubs will be ‘home to teams of export and investment specialists, who can provide businesses with expert support and advice to help them maximise their export potential and boost their trade in new markets overseas’.

They will also supply ‘better access major trade markets like India, the US and Japan and feed directly into DIT’s free trade agreements programme’, all part of a major export drive (perhaps similar to the 40+ new deals pre-Brexit no doubt, promised by Liam Fox in 2017 and swept under the carpet two years later).

All of this will be guided by the hand of International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, a figure who often attracts the sort of publicity one associates with the Chris Grayling era (what ever happened to that cheese?). Announcing the programme she said:

“I’m determined to use UK trade policy to benefit every part of the UK. These Trade and Investment Hubs will help this country to an export and jobs-led recovery. They will mean we can channel investment into all corners of the country, and that exporters, whether they’re selling Scotch beef, Welsh Lamb or cars made in the North of England, have access to the expertise they need to sell into the fastest growing markets.”

By the government’s own figures the North of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland managed last year to sell goods for export to the tune of £98.4 billion, something it seems to be claiming was a result of its recent food and drink export campaign (it wasn’t).

We are told that 550 staff are expected to be present in the hubs by 2025, with an ambition to increase this to 750 staff by 2030. An existing DIT Hub in Edinburgh announced in September last year, will see a significant increase in headcount following its re-launch today.

The thought that springs to mind is just where all these instant export experts are to be found?