Raphael Channer, an international trade adviser at the Department for International Trade, answers your questions
We find it tough enough competing against the large practices for work in the UK. Doing so abroad in a post-Brexit world will require government support, resource sharing, and more. How can the DIT open up opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] in international markets post‑Brexit?
Phil Coffey, director, Coffey Architects
We operate in over 100 markets globally, from the more mature economies to some of the fastest growing economies in emerging markets and developing countries. Our local advisers are native to the markets in which they work, and have strong market expertise and contacts in key sectors such as architectural design.
Additionally, we have identified several markets such as GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries, east Africa, China and India, where there is significant potential in the sector; often where there are major long-term construction projects. In these markets we are building relationships that SMEs can leverage, improving perceptions of the UK as a business partner and generating export opportunities (live tenders), which are then published on great.gov.uk
We encourage SMEs that could meet this demand – both existing exporters and those taking their first steps to develop overseas business – to apply online for these opportunities. There is a huge range and they have mostly been brokered by the DIT’s global network.
Can the DIT help facilitate business visas and help registering a business?
Chris Williamson, Weston Williamson + Partners
The department stokes demand overseas for UK products, skills and services and domestically works to inspire, support and facilitate businesses to meet that demand.
Our overseas network includes partner organisations that can provide businesses with a range of support services such as market research, PR and event management. They have crucial local expertise on business process and culture. Many of our partners independently offer additional services, including help with company registration, licensing and incubation.
Can the DIT help protect small businesses from late or non payments?
The biggest problem we have experienced in working overseas was managing payment systems. We are hardly likely to go to court in Russia or China over a payment dispute. Can the DIT help small businesses, like ours, put legal and financial processes in place to protect them from late payments or non-payments of final invoices?
Tatiana von Preussen, vPPR
UK Export Finance (UKEF), which is the UK’s export credit agency and a part of the DIT, offers finance and insurance to help companies win, fulfil and get paid for exports. Its export insurance can protect exporters against the risk of not being paid, or of not being able to recover the costs of fulfilling an export contract, enabling more SMEs to have the confidence to do business internationally and not lose out on payment.
In many markets there can also be problems obtaining trade finance from your house bank. UKEF can help here too, helping companies access working capital and contract bonds.
UK architecture has a global reputation for excellence, innovation and creativity, which the government recognised recently through its #GlobalBritain campaign. How does the DIT plan to support the growth of international trade within the sector, and of UK exports as a whole?
Jane Duncan, president, RIBA
The DIT has a presence at many of the major trade shows and conferences around the world, where we set up trade stands and provide speakers for Q&As and panel discussions.
Our aim is to actively promote all those sectors of the economy where the UK enjoys competitive advantage and global leadership, such as financial and business services, bioscience, technology, and creative sectors. In recent years we have also devoted trade missions to smart cities, reconstruction and regeneration projects and construction products, as well as architecture.
This year we are at MIPIM, and will have a stand and a trade mission at Cityscape in Dubai in September. We are also developing a partnership with RIBA, which itself has a growing international footprint, and we will be taking part in the London Festival of Architecture.
We work in a variety of international markets from EU, to Asian, to US markets, and rely on a strong set of relationships with local entities. As the UK moves away from the EU, what target markets will be focused on?
Tyen Masten, Phase 3 Architecture + Design
We’ve identified key markets for the construction infrastructure and creative sectors, based upon known pipelines of major construction and regeneration projects with substantial export value attached.
These projects will not be affected by the UK’s transition from the EU and will remain significant opportunities for UK companies – ‘Global Britain’ can succeed in doing business outside of the EU. The UK is open for business and the government will continue to develop relationships in these markets and other developed and emerging economies, using its influence and expertise to support architects and construction consultants.
We are also involved in the establishment of consortiums to bid for major contract tenders, taking account of client and local market sensitivities, helping more UK businesses to secure and deliver overseas contracts.
We hear that SMEs are critical to a thriving UK economy, but have the impression that trade missions are formed from leaders of larger companies – what support can you give to the smaller practice looking to enter the global market?
Hal Currey of HAL Architects
Eighty-seven per cent of DIT customers are SMEs and we have actively consulted with SMEs to understand their needs when developing our services. We run a number of initiatives that provide businesses with access to a trade adviser, like me, who guides them to develop their overseas business plan.
The type of support we provide also includes market entry, selection and identification of relevant opportunities. I have led two missions to the Gulf region in the past 18 months – the biggest company I took turns over about £3 million annually; the smallest maybe £500,000.