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.

Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

Helpdesk Analyst

£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...

Senior Helpdesk Analyst / Service Desk Co-ordinator

£27000 per annum + pension, 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ind...

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London