Whatever the shape of Brexit, or no Brexit, the opportunity to do more business around the wider world has figured large in the national debate, and is still a core issue of concern in the proposed Brexit deal.
Whatever happens, the UK can do a lot more to help build sustainable economies in developing countries with which it has close links.
The world is going through fast and revolutionary change, driven mainly by the digital economy and the way this is opening up trade opportunities in the fastest growing markets.
The main challenge is to be among first movers in new markets where the competition is already hotting up. The technology, skills and experience the UK offers are undoubtedly formidable but are enough leaders of UK business seizing the moment?
There is also a major concern that fast growing markets may become an unregulated wild west, undermining confidence in the benefits of new technologies. As Europeans we know a lot about regulating markets prone to abuse.
There is also still a big gap of access to affordable internet and relevant educational opportunities. This is something that UK policy can focus on to improve its relationships and commercial footprint in vast markets such as sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia, where UK interests are already considerable and many historic ties serve the UK well.
A general objective the UK Government and good British businesses should have is to try and share best practice and regulatory experience with countries who are just beginning their digital journey. The alternative is a free for all that gives digital monopolies a clear run and could hurt consumer interests long term. British interests can be developed alongside responsible business strategies that work for long term mutual interest.
The time is now to use British skills to engage with the economies growing into some of our biggest future overseas markets.
Will UK business leaders with capacity to play a part in helping develop overseas markets get stuck in to opening up new trade ?
It cannot be for our Government alone to push these opportunities, it is self-evidently in the interest of British businesses to be getting into profitable long term trade relationships, which may also be a vital part of promoting the growth of the many enterprises in developing countries who can become trusted partners and distributors in the long term.
It will be good to see this theme of developing overseas markets finding its way into UK training and strategic planning agendas far more. Leadership is of course a lot about managing teams and inspiring employees to greater endeavours, but also it has to be outward looking horizon scanning, creating strategies for growth and global collaborations.
The UK can only be as good at world trade as its best businesses can deliver, and this is not just about the multinationals who already trade internationally, it is about the huge number of decent sized smaller businesses who create most of the new jobs in our economy and drive innovation. It is the leaders of those businesses who will be the people who determine UK success as a world trading nation. They need to be supported and encouraged to get the know-how and strategic vision to be the front line of UK trade success.
30th November 2018