Indian market is high on agenda alongside drive by Institute of Export to raise influence and professional goals of UK trade executives, By James Brewer
A momentous year has begun for the UK’s Institute of Export, with a focus on doing business with emerging economies, on providing a new channel for trading firms to make their voices heard, and on sharpening professionalism.
Most immediately, boosting trade with India will be in the spotlight when the London branch of the Institute hosts an event on February 25 2013. April will see in several cities the latest of the Institute’s new PIT Stop (PIT stands for Professionalism in International Trade) gatherings, which are platforms for businesses to give their opinions on national policies, and to thrash out approaches to key challenges. The month of May will reinforce, in an impressive Mansion House awards ceremony, the drive by the Institute for enhanced professionalism among export executives.
A registered charity, the Institute has as its patron the Duke of Kent, and as current president Jim Davis, perhaps the best known ‘elder statesman’ of the maritime world. The organisation already has 2, 000 members from commerce and banking, of both corporate and individual status, and is aiming to recruit more.
The Opportunity India event comes at a time of numerous missions by UK government ministers to the world’s fourth largest emerging economy, with Prime Minister David Cameron leading the push.
Main topics for the Opportunity India event (contact is email@example.com ) include selling to, buying from and investing in the near-$2trn market; understanding the cultural issues associated with doing business there; tariff and non-tariff barriers; and payment security such as letters of credit. Speakers scheduled include George Raju, first secretary economic at the Indian High Commission; Kevin McCole, chief operating officer of the UK-India Business Council; Uday Dholakia, chairman of the Indo British Trade Council; Nik Kotecha, director of Morningside Pharmaceuticals; and Sabe Tibbets, director of Kernal Consulting.
Most prominent public highlight for the Institute will be the graduation ceremony at Mansion House on May 1 for students of its thriving education programme, when economics broadcaster Stephanie McGovern, known for her BBC One Breakfast appearances, will present awards to some 80 graduates. Keynote speakers will be Institute vice-president Lord Empey of Shandon, and Sir Eric Peacock, a non-executive director of UK Export Finance and of UK Trade & Investment.
The Institute is benefiting from the enthusiasm of its director general, Lesley Batchelor, who was appointed in 2010 after a three-year elected tenure as chairman and chief executive. She uses every opportunity to comment in the media on export and trading issues, and to underline the status of the Institute as the only professional body in the UK offering recognised, formal qualifications in international trade.
Ms Batchelor had 15 years with major groups including Fujitsu Europe, Canon, Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals and Coca-Cola Europe, giving her a powerful track record in international trade and export marketing, and later set up her own strategy and training company for small and medium enterprises. Her specialities have included managing supply chain risk and the financial risk of international trade, managing intellectual property matters in different jurisdictions, and assessing opportunities in emerging markets.
She has a clear commitment to the values she expounds: she is a graduate of both the Institute of Export, and of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. To address the widespread skills gap, she launched an Institute of Export foundation degree, and created an all-level National Vocational Qualification programme.
Established amid conditions of deep recession in 1935 by a group of businessmen who wanted to infuse people with the confidence to trade successfully internationally, the Institute is the professional membership body representing and supporting the interests of those involved in importing, exporting and international trade.
The Institute’s Pit Stop debates work in collaboration with the Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants. They are a new concept for collecting members’ views and offering solutions from a grass roots perspective. Each Pit Stop meeting provides feedback to Institute head office that can be taken up in lobbying government and institutions.
A key point adduced from the first group of Pit Stop debates in December 2012 is that, according to the Institute, “embedding international trade into our business psyche is crucial for long term success – this should not be a quick fix but an educational commitment.” International trade was not deemed “glamorous” so it was difficult to get people to study it as a subject in its own right. It was felt that more effort should be made to incorporate basic practical knowledge modules into existing, more general, courses from NVQ1 to MBA level.
Ms Batchelor said that among other points, the recent discussions in London, Birmingham and Manchester “reinforced the urgency of addressing the lack of training and skills in the struggle to export out of current trade problems.”
Exporters urged during the meetings that there should be a system of tax breaks or tax holidays to incentivise companies to export. The tax breaks could cover the considerable expenses of setting up in a new market and be recovered by Customs and Revenue later. Without real support, companies were likely to stay within their comfort zones, the exporters warned.
The three biggest challenges in exporting were identified as inadequate bank support, lack of training and in-house skills, and lack of guidance and advice. Better understanding of how international trade works financially, especially with warranty bonds and bank loans, was needed. There was said to be a communication and skills gap between banks, UK Export Finance, government and business.
Themes for the next Pit Stop debates will be: in April, the European Union; June, “why aren’t we going to India?” September, “what’s so hard about Brazil?”; and December, “why is China so difficult?”
Gaining the Institute’s Diploma and certificates in International Trade are seen by the candidates as great confidence boosters. One participant in the course, Gavin Makowski, head of logistics and compliance at pharmaceutical services group Dishman praised the system of qualifications offered by the Institute as the only ones available in the logistics and supply chain. He said: “It was a very worthwhile and enlightening experience and the diploma will be a valuable complement to my other business qualifications.”
Ms Batchelor says: “We want to encourage businesses to treat exporting professionally and not just ‘have a stab’ at it.” She emphasises the importance of learning languages, although realises that trading with a variety of markets makes it too much of a challenge to learn all the languages concerned. But some acquaintance with the language of trading partners will make it possible to phrase things more smoothly when dealing with counterparties.
Services to Institute members include a helpline, and a daily exchange rate update courtesy of Currency UK.