Powering transatlantic trade

Posted November 16, 2017

A strong logistics sector powers healthy international trade


Lords, Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. I am delighted to be here to add some thoughts to this showcase focus on logistics and international trade. Thanks to Peel Ports for convening us here tonight.

I am going to talk about what a strong logistics sector in the UK delivers to our international trade performance from a British North American perspective.

I am proud to lead a transatlantic business network, the British American Business Council. We are 2000 or more British American Canadian and other companies active every day making the British North American economy happen, across borders, across the cloud, and of course across our crucial physical infrastructure like ports. We are a big part, if you will, of the business case for logistics.

In a USUK context that business case means that we – across North America and the UK – start from the basis that we are each other’s largest investors. The two way fixed investment stock is worth nearly a trillion dollars. In the case of the US, 1 million Americans get up every day to work for a British HQd company. And a little more than a million British citizens here go out to work everyday for an American hqd company.

That also adds up as a driving force – key for our theme this evening – for 250 billion dollars of trade a year, reasonably well balanced I might add, and across all sectors, from vehicles to chemicals.

On the UK side that trade adds up to 20% of British exports.

These are exports which depend upon a healthy logistics sector backed by long term investment to bring speed, reliability and customer satisfaction, to facilitate seamless supply chains to producers and to guarantee rapid delivery chains to buyers.

The stats tell a story themselves, but I will come back to share a story or two from behind the stats - drawn from the successes of the thousands of businesses in the USUK channel, in a moment.

As a ‘macroeconomic’ phenomenon, we can truly say that in the British North American economy, we are an opportunity whatever the risk, and a solution whatever the problem.

As the British American Business Council we are a network made up of chapters in most if not all of our major American, Canadian and British cities, including BritishAmerican Business in London here, which forms with New York

We are in places like Detroit, San Francisco, Toronto and Philadelphia where the American dream, the North American dream, happens, and where if you make it big you get rich and retire early, so the story goes. Just like, ladies and gentlemen, the Bay city Rollers, or Beyoncé, or GE or Jaguar Land Rover, or Eccles cakes.

And here in the UK we are in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, as well as London, places where our Industrial Revolution took shape and contributed to a century of global economic leadership.

Our members ambitions to cross borders back and forth across the Atlantic mark them out as the kind of companies that win in international markets – and we know from the stats that exporting companies have proportionately higher productivity than ones that don’t.

The work of all BABC chapters is designed to strengthen UK North American trade and investment and to provide meaningful business development opportunities to our members and we are ably supported by teams, chapter by chapter, and also by a BABC Secretariat in London, well led by Emanuel Adam supported by Silvia Rizzo and Theo Bacharach.

So, who wants to talk about Brexit, ladies and gentlemen? No? Had enough of BREXIT? I thought so.

I am not going to talk about BREXIT. I am not going to talk about trade deals either tonight, they are good things don’t get me wrong, but to the average business, focused on the practicalities of next Tuesday’s order book, they always seem a long way off. A USUK trade deal, for example, might take in reality 5 or 6 or more years to do, so we need to focus on other tools to grow exports in the meantime.

So tonight I want to talk to you about the ‘elbow grease’ part of the economy, the ‘do stuff’ people, the ‘grassroots businesses’ that make things happen and who are the real characters who deliver the stats we heard a minute ago.

And in the ‘do stuff’ economy Peel Group and others, the cranes and infrastructure, the moving goods part of the economy, can make a difference, by delivering an efficient logistics sector. And you can’t really have competitive international trade without that. With or without Brexit and with or without a US trade deal.

And its not just the traditional economy either we are talking about either. We know that the knowledge economy, the online retail economy, the new economy, still moves packages, and packages are express carriers and cargos, and cargos are ports, and airports, and ports are modern or not, and need to work effectively, with customs and physical infrastructures adding up to a cost and speed advantage for users.

But they don’t just happen. Which is where the ambition of many of you here tonight comes in, ambition plus ‘elbow grease’.

At the British American Business Council we celebrate these types of story as much as we can, most recently with a series of publications under the title “Across the Pond - British Trade and Investment Success stories in the US”, developed by BritishAmerican Business in London and New York.

Stories like Brompton.

Brompton is the largest bicycle manufacturer in the United Kingdom. It has made hand-crafted bicycles in the UK since 1975, and sold them through a network of independent bike stores around the world.

Just as London has undergone something of a cycling revolution in recent years, major US cities are not far behind. Brompton’s growth in the US has supported, in part, the expansion of the UK operation into new 80,000sqft premises in Northwest London.

People like Brompton, people like Peel.

And as we think about history as well as the future, taking us back to the cities we built here in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow, as great expressions of our capacity to innovate - it stands out very clearly that none of that could happen without ambition, to turn innovation into productivity, and productivity into output and move output across borders, underpinned by logistics, as international trade.

But our history shows us also that ambition alone is not enough. Wishes don’t clean dishes.

There’s a three r’s of the UK export trajectory that I want to close with, that we need in order to leverage an effective logistics proposition.

The first r is for Resilience – it takes a Liverpool or a Detroit to bounce back, to take stock and start thinking about what to do – in Liverpool’s case with the empire sized space for infrastructure it has and key investors like Peel who believe . A spirit of resilience.

The second ‘r’ is for is Regeneration – and it only happens when cities and business, workers and citizens, are aligned and committed with a game plan, an agreed productivity proposition, and investment pounds are found and spent with private and public sectors both pulling weight.

And finally, redistribution. The benefits of growth, the potential for future growth and the location of those things, need to work regionally as well as nationally, socially as well as for markets, and for businesses, large and small. This is not a cry for a ‘hand out’ industrial policy, but a need for, and a belief in, the virtues of a positive investment cycle, across the country, buttering the whole piece of bread as it were.

And I will end with a few home truths which we all know.

Export success begins at home.

If you have productivity at home, if you have happy workers making things that people want to buy, if you sell them at attractive prices, you underpin a thriving logistics proposition. If you have the ambition to do this and you apply the ‘elbow grease’, then you win abroad in international trade.

Thank you.