It seems that whenever we talk about international trade in the UK our entire outlook hinges, like a stuck record, on Brexit. But let’s remember that there is a whole world of potential trade partners out there, and it’s time we business owners embraced the opportunities.
As a business owner and Chair of the West Midlands India Partnership, I’ve spent plenty of time as part of international delegations. My company, Lioncroft Wholesale and my previous family business East End Foods, is well versed in the process of importing and exporting goods. It is, after all, the foundation of our business. We began introducing foods from India to the UK over 50 years ago. Now, exporting to Europe, the Middle East and beyond is a vital and pivotal part of our success.
That’s not to say that we haven’t faced challenges. But, by adapting our outlook we have thrived. In the early years, the quality of the goods imported into the UK couldn’t reach the standards required by the UK market. Our solution was to invest in our own manufacturing equipment to clean and package ingredients in house.
Later, as multiples became more widespread, we created our Retail Club, supporting small independents to develop their sales. And now, with Brexit changing the horizon again, we, along with all SME and owner led businesses, need to adapt once more.
Give us the tools and we’ll do the work.
That’s not to dismiss the impact Brexit has had. On a practical level, the process of exportation is now far more complex, certainly so far as transporting goods to Europe is concerned. The biggest challenge for businesses today is not one of quality or competition or changing technologies. Instead, businesses face drowning in a deluge of paperwork and documentation.
In the last three years we have had some time to wade along the paper river until it is more of a nuisance than the huge tsunami of confusion that we first experienced. Larger corporations no doubt have built a bridge of processes that enable them to speed up the document trail, throwing multiple resources and departments at it.
But for the SME or owner managed business, the task of exporting their goods remains a challenge. What they need is more time and more support. Well, no; what they need is clear process and polices from the government. But while that remains a seemingly distant prospect, for now support, time and advice will have to suffice.
It is estimated that 9% of SMEs in the UK export, with a further 15% being part of the supply chain for a business that exports.1 As has been said before, SME businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. Supporting them to grow and succeed supports us all. It’s essential that government and the British Chambers of Commerce work together to help these businesses develop procedures and systems of export, simplifying the way they operate. It’s a very simple equation. Increasing export sales growth and international trade increases GDP and helps the economy to grow.
So yes, I think we can all agree that Brexit has made exporting goods more difficult. But not insurmountable. That’s why it’s wonderful to see the E2E International Top 100 exporting successfully worldwide and flying the flag for UK business.
Products, services and people powering growth.
When you focus only on the press, it’s easy to forget that there is huge demand for UK products and services around the world. Britain is a brand in itself and, from my own experience, highly regarded for integrity and quality. We have strong relationships across many countries outside of Europe, based on shared history, Commonwealth ties and mutual respect.
Take, for example, the ongoing negotiations of the comprehensive UK-India Free Trade Agreement, currently proceeding through the winding pathway of government. I am closely watching the progress of the agreement, and not just because of our own long history of mutually successful trade in the region, but because today India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and estimated to be the third largest by 2030.
The government are rightly focused on creating a strong, mutually beneficial bilateral trade agreement. In 2022 the UK exported £15.1 billion in goods and services to India, making them our 12th largest trading partner. 2
In doing so, they have recognised the value in our shared background, having made particular mention of the ties between people across the two countries, “fostered by the living bridge of 1.6 million strong Indian diaspora in the UK”.2
India poses just one of the many opportunities for British exports. In 2022, £24.8bn was exported worldwide in the food and drinks industry alone, of which Lioncroft plays a part by trading with many countries globally.
As a result, we are bound to advocate the importance of pushing British wares all around the world. And we are not alone. We are proud to see businesses like those in the E2E International successfully navigating and succeeding in international trade across a range of industries. Surely, it’s clear that the market for our homegrown brands is out there.
A proud, independent island nation
It’s time we business owners adjust the way we look at the world; no longer a part of a combined European buying power, but a strong, independent and globally recognised island nation.
Other countries already see us. And it’s those relationships we build now that make future trade a success.
The number of international students coming to Britain has increased by 12.3%, hitting the 600,000 target a decade early.3 Studying here creates a bond that each student takes home with them, making future business with the UK more natural.
As well as the potential for skilled workforce to move into the UK, our executives are travelling further to lead businesses globally. With the increasing movement of people, we forge stronger ties and relationships across the globe, opening new channels and opportunities.
We’re not just looking through rose-coloured glasses. The West Midlands India Partnership sees these mutually beneficial relationships in practice, as we actively support long-term economic growth in the region by enhancing links with companies in India. Not only is international trade increasing, but we see British businesses embracing the benefits of training and building businesses in India.
Brexit was three years ago. It’s time to look ahead and fly the flag for Brand Britain. Yes, we need to build strong relationships with Europe again, but as an island nation we can build those relationships in a different way, embracing our new landscape.
To flourish, we need to be looking beyond Europe, opening ourselves up to the world. We’ve got a lot to sell. Brand Britain is strong and in demand – we just need the policies in place to support all of our businesses, SME and large corporations, equally. Successful trade and a growing economy are in sight.
You can view the complete E2E International 100 track here
Dr Jason Wouhra O.B.E.
- Dr. Wouhra is previously a Director of East End Foods Plc, a business established by the Wouhra family in the 1960’s and grew to become one of Europe’s premier Ethnic food producers based in West `Bromwich, West Midlands.
- Dr Wouhra is now Chief Executive of Lioncroft Wholesale Limited a company which was carved out of East End Foods after its sale in 2019.
- Outside of his company responsibilities he has many voluntary and philanthropic interests and is currently Chair of The West Midlands India Partnership which is a trade and industry body responsible Inward and Outward Foreign Direct Investment to and from India.
- He is also a Governing Council Member of Aston University and has been a past Chair of the Institute of Directors WM, Asian Chamber of Commerce and a Non-Executive Director of University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust amongst other roles.
Lioncroft Wholesale Limited
- Lioncroft has been in the Wholesale industry for over 50 years, a company which was carved out of East End Foods in 2019.
- Lioncroft is a successful Wholsale food and beverage business, stocking over 15,000 product lines, throughout beers, wines and spirits, ethnic foods, grocery, beverages and household products.
- Lioncroft is a founding member of Unitas, the largest buying group in the UK, with £8.5billion buying power.
- Lioncroft supplies 7,000 stores including bars, restaurants and stadia with 30,000 distribution points around the UK.
- Lioncroft was awarded Unitas National Wholesaler of the Year 2023.