by Paul Faulkner, Chief Executive, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce
Amid all of the turmoil surrounding the frustrating and fluctuating Brexit negotiations over the past three years, we in the heart of the UK have regarded the whole mess as an opportunity.
An opportunity to re-build our trading relationships with Commonwealth countries, like Canada.
Birmingham is still a hotbed of manufacturing and is home to the production of the iconic brands of Jaguar and Land Rover, the giant chocolate-maker Cadbury, now owned by the North American conglomerate Kraft, plus thousands of SMEs. Greater Birmingham still lives up to its Victorian reputation of being the city of a thousand trades.
It all started way before that when in 1776 James Watt, who lived in Birmingham, developed the steam engine. With his partner James Watt he used the steam engine to sell the industrial revolution to the world.
So we have quite a legacy to live up to and our focus has been on examining what a post-Brexit world will look like for the UK by taking an apolitical view and trying to ignore the shenanigans going on in the House of Commons.
This led to our creating the Greater Birmingham Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce (GBCCC), which offers a membership-based international gateway for firms wishing to develop bilateral trade opportunities with Commonwealth countries.
We believe that the Commonwealth represents a largely untapped market which has been overshadowed by the UK’s relationship with the European Union.
Currently, the EU accounts for 44 per cent of all UK exports, while Commonwealth countries make up only nine per cent.
So it’s a no-brainer that we must take a new look at our trading opportunities with Canada and all other Commonwealth countries. There is already a common bond there and we have developed a mantra which urges all existing and potential exporters to exploit a huge “Commonwealth Advantage”. Part of this is the need to recognize that doing business with Commonwealth countries is 19 per cent cheaper because of many factors, including a common language and many compatible laws. It’s now critical that we all work to building a trusted global network. We have a huge opportunity to ensure that happens when Birmingham stages the Commonwealth Games in 2022. The eyes of a large part of the world will fall on the city and we look forward to using the occasion to encourage business to trust one another and build a way of doing better business.
In our relationship with Canada this is already happening. Statistics released last year revealed that British businesses were already benefiting from the ability to trade freely with Canada without paying any duties at Canadian customs. As a result, UK exports of goods to Canada increased by 13.7 per cent to £6.15 billion in the previous 12 months since the new Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA) was introduced in September 2017. The UK has been a consistent supporter of the deal. Canada has also benefited with exports to the UK rising, particularly in cereals, mineral fuels, oils, word, paper, metals, machinery, nuclear reactors, building and electrical products.
In addition to the GBCCC, we have underlined our determination to exploring and promoting more international activity with three more key developments at Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC). As well as establishing the Greater Birmingham International Business Hub (IBH), we made the important appointment of Mandy Haque as its development director. She has wide experience of international trade, having held a number of senior roles at Birmingham Airport and has represented the city at many international events.
We have also re-invented the former Midlands Chapter of the British American Business Council (BABC). It’s now called the Greater Birmingham Transatlantic Chamber of Commerce which gives added recognition to Canada as an important and valued part of the organisation. Mandy is on the global BABC board as vice-president. We will celebrate that when we again stage the Transatlantic Conference in Birmingham on June 27 this year. It takes place at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, which now has a magnificent new home dedicated to developing talented musicians under director Julian Lloyd-Webber.
After a hugely successful three-day event last year, we are delighted to be welcoming back two key speakers. Joe Brusuelas, from RSM, who is a leading provider of audit, tax and consulting services to middle market leaders, globally.
He specializes in analyzing US monetary policy, labour markets, fiscal policy, economic indicators and the US consumer. Joining him will be Simon Hart, who leads RSM’s Brexit partner who leads their analysis and commentary on how leaving the EU will impact on business.
We will also be welcoming a large number of delegates from North America, who will again play a huge part in our efforts to build international trade between the UK and Canada and the US.
I urge anyone interested in building transatlantic trade to attend the conference and discover the huge number of business opportunity available in Greater Birmingham, the rest of the UK and North America. Delegates will be travelling from all over Canada, the US and the UK to take advantage of the opportunities that accrue from the numerous networking events we will arrange.
To book, please go to https://bit.ly/Transatlantic2019