Jim Armitage: Boosting our exports comes at a price

Outlook The Cameron-Osborne Chinese trade circus has won hugely admiring headlines for our leaders this week.

Just how much business has actually been done is a moot point, though. Bankers were sniggering behind their hands at the glorious headlines yesterday trumpeting the tiny Chinese currency trade deal. I'd argue that it can never do any harm to have the Prime Minister meeting the top brass of major economies to talk trade, particularly when, as with China, perceptions about these potential partners back home among the British public are far too negative. But it's a bit like advertising – you can't quantify exactly what kind of return you're going to get for your investment.

The boss of the British Chambers of Commerce, John Longworth, puts it less diplomatically: "You don't build an export economy through political delegations and cocktail parties."

Instead, you have to invest patiently in deep, long-term relationships between British business people and customers in the markets you're targeting. That is precisely how Germany has cracked so many big export destinations – by having a presence through its global network of business chambers.

So the Government's decision to fund a doubling of the BCC's chambers to 20 more territories is a good one. Rather than having Foreign Office mandarins attempting to advise our entrepreneurs, all the SME-type export advice will now be handed over to the businessmen and women of the BCC network.

All very well except for one thing. Money. Somehow, these chambers are expected to drive through a plan to have £1trn of UK exports a year by 2020 (growing our overseas sales by 9 per cent every year) on a grant from the Government of £20m. Not just that, but the £20m is spread over two years. Across the whole BCC overseas network, that's less than £250,000 a year for each country.

By contrast, the German government, whose overseas chambers are already up and running, invests €57m a year in such efforts. On top of that, where British firms struggle to obtain funding to fulfil their orders from overseas, Germany offers, through its state-backed Business Bank, more than €60bn a year of financing to SMEs.

As Mr Longworth will tell the BCC's International Trade Conference today, the task it has been set by the Government is "heroic". A euphemism if ever there was one. If we are really serious about boosting exports, we have to invest properly in our exporting infrastructure like Germany does. Political photo opportunities in exotic locations are one thing. A coherent export policy is an altogether more serious and costly investment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower