The New Year is here, and we’re all in a reflective mood – taking stock and making plans for the year ahead. International trade expert, Gabriela Castro-Fontoura, shares her thoughts on what 2012 holds for UK exporters…
What were your international trade highlights of 2011?
I specialise in UK trade with Latin America and there have been lots of highlights: Colombia’s credit rating being raised to investment grade by both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s springs to mind, as well as Brazil overtaking the UK as the 6th largest world economy.
There’s also been growing increase in South-South trade and, of course, the strengthening of the enormously important trading relations between China and Latin America.
But my personal highlight has been contributing to the expansion of Silver Cross, an iconic British brand, into Latin America.
What does 2012 hold for UK exporters?
Everyone is saying 2012 will be a tough year. Even Latin America, where there’s been good growth despite the global downturn, is forecasting a slowdown. But UK companies should remember that economies in the region will still be expanding.
We have a choice. We can sit back and blame our bad performance on the global economic crisis, or we can work hard to adjust to our new conditions. There are great opportunities out there for British exporters. In fact, some are doing fantastically well – many are telling me they can hardly cope with overseas demand. It’s about being flexible, responsive and thinking outside the box.
What developments should we be watching out for?
I’d like to see progress in the EU-Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay) agreement to open up trade on both sides. Negotiations are progressing, but I wouldn’t bet on a final agreement being reached this year.
I am also watching with interest the development of the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Colombia, due to be ratified this year. Colombia is a high growth market, and UK businesses should be ready to tap into opportunities as and when they arise.
We’re getting closer to big events in Brazil like World Cup 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, bringing their own in-roads, chances and challenges. It’s never too early to start planning!
What can businesses do to make the most of these opportunities?
It’s vital to keep up-to-date with international trade news and trends, both generally and for your particular sector. You can also make sure you have things in place – from people to processes – to make sure you’re ready to respond when the call comes. SMEs probably have an advantage in this regard.
What advice would you offer?
In terms of exporting, get back to basics. Start by looking at a map. No, really! Get a map and sit down with your team, thinking about where you see your business going. Questions like why and how will follow, but start with an open mind about international trade opportunities.
And don’t ignore calls from abroad. They can be a massive opportunities you can’t afford to miss. If you look closely, you’ll find the resources you need to respond effectively. What’s more, you may end up with new clients in new markets simply by remaining open to these kinds of possibilities.
I’m always amazed when businesses tell me they’ve missed out for silly reasons like not having a Portuguese speaker in the office. It isn’t a genuine obstacle – there’s loads of resource out there to help you address foreign language demands. Not having traded in a foreign market isn’t a legitimate reason either. You can build your knowledge and understanding, you just have to be prepared to adapt.
I have great admiration for small and micro businesses that take the plunge and go global. It can be daunting, but equally can be exciting and rewarding. If you get stuck, just ask. There’s always someone out there ready to help.
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