Britain's road to recovery lies in overseas trade



Every little helps it's the slogan that took Tesco (Other OTC: TSCDY - news) to the world, and also one of the key lessons I learned in all my years at the company.

Brands matter, and promotion matters. To be a success on the global stage, you need to commit to the major promotional push, and sell your brand and products with pride and certainty.

Britain now needs to embrace the same ethos, and go out with confidence into international markets, promoting the brands, businesses and services it has to offer. It's by talking up our business culture that we will buck the continental trend of recession, one that saw the European Commission's winter forecast predict another year of negative growth for the eurozone last week.

The road to recovery is there for those who seek it out, and the mechanism of growth for Britain will be trade. On this front, the most encouraging development of 2013 was the announcement earlier this month that Europe and America's leaders will come to the table to negotiate a new, far-reaching free trade treaty.

For Britain's business community, this is an opportunity to seize with both hands. This is a downturn we can sell and trade our way out of, and with the key European and American markets ready to deal, British businesses need to make their best pitch to the world, and make it now.

That's why I'm pleased to be speaking on Monday at the London launch of the International Festival for Business, a global showcase for British brands and industry that will be held in Liverpool next year.

This is an event Lord Heseltine and I first envisioned two years ago in our report on the Liverpool city region's growth potential. It will bring a quarter of a million visitors to the city next year, and aims to stimulate at least £100m of new investment.

The International Festival for Business will show the world that Britain and its business brands are back in the game. It also has the capacity to reignite our export culture, one that is badly in need of boosting if we are to fight our way through the recession.

An enterprising, exporting mentality is exactly what Britain needs its businesses to recapture if we are to get beyond the current economic log-jam. The buoyancy and demand that may be lacking in the domestic market must be found overseas.

But in recent years, UK businesses have tended to tiptoe rather than tread firmly into international markets. Innovative, transferable brands that have the potential to go global are simply stopping short, and allowing the rest of the world to catch up.

Britain's history is as a trading nation and its future will be as a net exporter. That is why the Government's target of doubling exports by 2020 deserves top billing in any strategy for the UK's recovery.

Growth and recovery have become the mainstays of the business debate in the past half-decade, a debate that is hampered by a recessional mindset that fails to look around the problems and see the opportunities that are there.

All through history, great companies have been founded in the midst of difficult economic circumstances. In tough times, the successful business is one that avoids digging itself into a siege mentality, and invests in anticipation of the upturn. As any experienced retailer knows, it's what the customer will do next, rather than what they are doing right now, that matters most.

Recession is also an opportunity as it forces business to look outward. With the home market sluggish, the growth potential clearly lies overseas. An international approach can compensate for the domestic slowdown and build the foundations for rapid growth when the market becomes buoyant again.

For Britain, the export potential is especially significant. Through a combination of the geographical advantages that have underpinned a proud trading history, and the global relevance of our business brands, we are ideally placed to take advantage of the international markets that continue to boom as our own struggles.

Building business confidence at home is the precondition for the successful execution of profitable new ventures, ones that will show Britain is back in the fight, and competing on global terms.

Britain needs to demonstrate both that it is open for new investment, and to start selling itself with confidence in international markets.

We have the products and services to succeed, but there are questions over whether British businesses have the self-belief and desire.

What we do have, of course, are saleable brands and the stories to accompany them. From London to Manchester, Liverpool to Birmingham, our cities are bursting with innovation, invention and high-growth potential.

My own city of Liverpool has become an outstanding example of what can be achieved with investment, an international outlook and the will to win. From European Capital of Culture in 2008 to the host of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress last year, Liverpool has proved itself on the world stage as a home for business, a centre of innovation and a hub for the world's entrepreneurs and investors.

With the International Festival for Business, Liverpool will next year host the most important event yet both for the city, and Britain as a whole. A much-needed jump-start for our economy and wider business confidence, the festival is concerned both with bringing investors to Britain, and showing the world what our brands have to offer.

With this event, the UK has the chance to get back on its feet again as a true international economic force.

Two months of events can both create the relationships that will convert into new deals and partnerships, and revitalise the confidence of businesses to get out and trade across the world.

As a city, Liverpool epitomises the spirit of regeneration that the whole UK can now harness to boost our trading output, entrepreneurial potential, and above all business confidence.

The festival can also offer inspiration to a new generation of entrepreneurs. Too many capable young people are being herded into service professions and are not being encouraged to think of starting their own business.

To get beyond the economic downturn, and the recessional mindset it has created, we need to wring out every bit of the UK's enterprising and exporting potential. Getting business to see the opportunities on offer around the world will be key, and that is what will be achieved in Liverpool next year.

The International Festival for Business is Britain's big promotional push, and every export helps.

 Sir Terry Leahy was CEO of Tesco from 1997-2010. He is speaking at the exclusive London Preview of the International Festival for Business, tomorrow ( )

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