Julie Meyer: Now is the time for the UK to rediscover its exporting mindset

Midweek View: In international markets the product is only as good as its salesmen, which is where Britain has fallen down
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The Independent Online

As the US and Europe prepare to begin negotiating what could be the biggest transatlantic trade treaty in generations, now is the right time for Britain to consider its own role in the global marketplace.

President Barack Obama and José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, have taken the entirely pragmatic decision to club together and protect their interests against the explosive growth of the Far Eastern economies.

For Britain, due to decide on its own future within the European Community in 2017, the negotiations present a real opportunity to reclaim status as one of the Western world's blue-chip economies.

Make no mistake, the UK has the innovators, the brands and the products to succeed and remake its proud trading history for the digital age. The only thing it could be accused of lacking is the confidence to succeed.

To win as a global player, you need braggadocio as well as brand; in international markets, the product is only as good as its salesman, which is where Britain has fallen down.

Americans love Britain – as a country to visit, as a place to do business and as a producer of innovations that we would never come up with ourselves. Yet British businesses have not always succeeded in making the Atlantic leap. Bankable brands such as Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer were never able to get the stake that allowed them to build sustainably.

But with Mr Obama coming to the table, it's time for Britain to show why it can be a successful exporter of its innovative businesses, in America and across the world.

If the UK, which sits ahead of only Japan and Italy in GDP growth among the G20 nations, is to regain position as one of the world's business leaders, it will need to rediscover its identity as a trading nation. Britain certainly has the necessary breadth of businesses and brands, from established names to innovative movers on the tech scene.

Look at Monitise, the mobile payments specialist, which last week reported revenues up 62.6 per cent, and an increase in usage of its software from 500 million transactions in 2011 to 2 billion last year. Monitise is a one of a number of great British tech success stories; it even acquired its major American competitor, Clairmail, against the much-trumpeted trend of British brands being bought out by foreign investors.

Monitise shows Britain can succeed with innovative tech businesses, as well as brands with deep cultural and historic roots. The lesson is that the UK's entrepreneurial culture needs to be at the heart of the economic recovery, and indeed the rediscovery of an exporting mindset.

This is something the UK Government has put a strong emphasis on, with the target of doubling export growth by 2020. The Prime Minister's ongoing trade trip to India, which even in a relative slowdown can boast GDP growth of 6.5 per cent, offers the kind of leadership that is needed. Particularly important is the emphasis that is being put on the opportunities for small and medium-size enterprises as exporters. Napoleon may have sought to belittle Britain as a nation of shopkeepers, but the UK can be proud to claim its status as an emerging nation of entrepreneurs. And they hold the key to Britain's future as a profitable exporter.

But before that future can be realised, Britain must prove its trading credentials to the world once more. A crucial part of that is opening up the country's brand showroom for the world to see. From names like Rolls-Royce, to innovative technology firms such as Autonomy, Britain captures the full spectrum of investment and export opportunities.

Now it needs to focus the world's attention on what it's selling. Last year's Olympics was the great 21st century advert for Britain, and next year business will follow suit with the International Festival for Business, a global showcase for British brands which will bring a quarter of a million visitors and investors to Liverpool, for two months of events celebrating the best of UK innovation, industry and entrepreneurship.

We know Britain has become more enterprising, now it has to prove it wants to take advantage of its assets in international markets. The International Festival for Business can build the networks and new connections to make this happen. It could mark the rebirth of Britain as a global economic force.

Julie Meyer is founder of Ariadne Capital, and managing partner of the Ariadne Entrepreneurs Fund. She will speak at the London preview of the International Festival for Business (ifb2014.com), on 25 February