Lord Bilimoria: The world loves British goods. It's time to put some fizz in our exports

Midweek View: We cannot compete without confidence - both in our products and our ability to market them on a global basis
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Addressing business audiences up and down the country, I always ask how many export to India; without fail, it is with despair that I see only a few hands go up among hundreds.

Going back to my childhood in India, the mark of "Made in Great Britain" as a guarantee of quality resonates strongly, and as a nation the UK is still capable of producing world-class products to export – such as Jaguar and Land Rover cars, sought after across the world, from the USA to China and India.

Without taking away from London's status as the international finance capital, or our strength in services, with some of the world's best accountants, lawyers and advertising professionals, redeveloping the UK's export culture will be a key part of the still-urgent need to generate economic momentum.

What is sometimes lacking is a sense of confidence on the part of British business, to go out into new markets and sell products and services. I saw first hand the effects of this when I accompanied the Prime Minister to India on his trade mission earlier this year, and the benefits of being assertive about what the UK has to offer the world.

Encouragingly, recent data suggests that British businesses are starting to make a mark in the most important international markets. According to the ONS, our exports to China passed £1bn in April this year for the first time, and we are now exporting £15bn outside the EU compared to £11bn within the eurozone. That is a complete reversal of the same figures in 2011.

While Europe remains a huge and significant market, the fact is that the eurozone economy continues to bump along the bottom, and it is heartening to see evidence that the UK's exporting businesses are starting to find their feet in the Brics [Brazil, Russia, India and China] and key emerging markets.

While India's growth rate may have fallen from its recent highs of nearly 10 per cent to half that level, there is still a momentum that will continue for decades to come, something most European economies would kill for. We must take a long-term view, and the UK needs to put down roots in China, India and countries that will provide the opportunities for our businesses that are receding in the traditional Western markets.

That work is already under way in India, where new British Deputy High Commissions have been opened in Hyderabad and Chandigarh, and the UK India Business Council, of which I was founding chairman, is opening up offices in India that will help British SMEs get off the ground.

Next year, the International Festival for Business, a showcase of UK industry and entrepreneurship to be held across June and July in Liverpool, will be a key opportunity to remind the world that Britain is open for business. With targets of 250,000 visitors, and £100m of inward investment, the festival is a bold and necessary statement of intent, and I am pleased to hear that 50 countries are already expected to attend.

The importance of exports will also be on the agenda at Accelerate 2013, a festival for the UK's fast-growth, high-potential businesses, which I'm delighted to be speaking at in Liverpool later this month.

As a trading hub with a rich history, Liverpool is the ideal host city for both events, and among the thousand-plus fast-growth businesses Accelerate will bring together, I expect to encounter many who have a compelling export story to tell.

It is simple logic that businesses looking to expand fast will follow the opportunities, and the GDP numbers provide cold, hard evidence that the best ones will be found in emerging markets, beyond Europe and the USA.

We are in a global race, competing not only with the likes of France and Germany, but Japan, Brazil and South Korea. We cannot compete without complete confidence – both in our products and services, and our ability to market them on a truly global basis. It can be done. My own business, Cobra Beer, manufactured in Burton-on-Trent, has found markets not only across Europe, but also countries as diverse as Chile and New Zealand.

The ONS figures are a welcome signal that we are heading in the right direction, but to meet the Government's target of doubling UK exports to more than £1 trillion by 2020, we undoubtedly still have a long way to go.

Lord Bilimoria is the founder and chairman of Cobra Beer. He is speaking at Accelerate 2013, on 27 June: accelerate2013.co.uk