The British government’s Minister for International Trade, Mark Garnier MP, visited the London Boat Show yesterday and IBI caught up with him on the show floor.
Asking what had prompted his visit the Minister, a keen sailor, responded: “The London Boat Show is a major showcase for the £3bn British leisure marine industry. And it’s a launch pad also for us to take British marine industries across the rest of the world. It’s very important that I, and other government ministers, support it.
“I also want to deliver a message to the marine industry in the UK that the Department of International Trade (DIT) is here to go out and help them sell their products across the globe.”
The DIT is the recent replacement for what was known as UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) but has responsibility also for export finance and licensing. It currently has 3,500 staff, of which 2,000 are based overseas in 105 countries. The Minister confirmed that it would be seeking to offer assistance to UK marine industry exporters through a variety of tools including market intelligence, practical advice at home and overseas, export vouchers and finance.
When asked what the UK government could do to mitigate the effects of uncertainty caused by the Brexit decision, he replied: “It would be wrong of me to pretend we are not going through slightly uncertain times, but the other side of that is we’ve seen some very good figures coming out of retailers in the run-up to Christmas. So clearly there is a certain amount of interest from consumers to go out and spend money.
“I think the best way that any country can mitigate its own internal risks in terms of consumer confidence is to become more international. It’s an interesting statistic that the UK as a percentage of GDP is one of the smallest exporters in Europe. If you look back to the great argument we had in the UK EU Referendum where people said that we need to be more international – as it turns out Britain wasn’t meeting the achievements of its European partners. And that’s why the DIT is so important.”
IBI also asked the Minister what his message was for marine companies across the globe concerned that Brexit might indicate a more insular approach. Responding, he said: “The UK is open for business more than it ever has been before. I think that Brexit has changed how we view the world. We see it now as our marketplace, whereas before perhaps we were slightly tied by the relationship we have with the rest of the world through the EU. Now we’re developing that relationship for ourselves.
“I supported Remain in the EU Referendum campaign. I saw an awful lot of quite useful things about the EU and my mind hasn’t changed on that. When we go through the Article 50 negotiations we need to make sure we can preserve those things. But in going out and meeting people around the world, I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the opportunity we have. I hadn’t really appreciated just how much demand there is for the British brand. I think this is something that we should celebrate and embrace.
“We are in for an extraordinarily exciting time. We will take British businesses and we will showcase them. We’ll take them to trade shows, find opportunities, finance the buyers of more expensive items and do whatever we can to help.
“We’re not looking for closed borders – completely the opposite. We are part of the single market at the moment and will be seeking something as similar to the access we get at the moment as we can. We’re looking for the best deal and that would be tariff-free trade in Europe.
“Bear in mind though that 20% of our exports go to America. We have no trade deal with the US, but as we saw with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s discussions this week, we could do a trade deal with America very early and that would make a huge difference to our exporters and indeed, our importers. So there’s a lot of opportunity.
“If you look at what’s happened to the DIT, we used to have one trade minister in the House of Lords who reported to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills. We now have an entire government department of four ministers, including a secretary of state, just concentrating on trade. I hope that really demonstrates how committed we are.
“We also have a cross-department initiative, Maritime UK, which is bringing together the maritime industries and ports. It is led by the Department of Transport but we’re involved too, along with a number of other government departments.”
Responding to the visit, British Marine’s chief executive Howard Pridding stated: “We’re pleased that the Minister has made a commitment to support us, to visit this show and attend overseas events. British-built boats and marine products have a worldwide reputation for quality, good design and innovation with a strong export record. The government is supporting all that we do to grow that export success and we are pleased to be an active partner in Maritime UK, which represents £22bn of business activity.
“We’ve always had a really strong relationship with UKTI and that will continue in an enhanced way under these new arrangements with DIT. A prime example is our Meet The Buyer event here at the London Boat Show that has seen over 350 meetings held over two days with 20 buyers to generate millions of pounds worth of exports.”