Mixed responses to government trade white paper

Government proposals aimed at boosting exports from small and medium sized businesses have received a mixed reaction from the region's exporters.

Yesterday's Trade and Investment White Paper outlined a number of measures aimed at supporting companies looking to sell to overseas markets, particularly smaller firms.

The paper comes ahead of today's visit by foreign office minister Jeremy Browne, who will be speaking to companies at Hethel Engineering Centre about business opportunities in South East Asia, the Far East and Central and South America.

Steps outlined in the paper include improving and expanding trade finance and insurance products issued by the government, a new online service offering businesses access to sales opportunities across the globe and a 'peer-to-peer' exchange website to enable exporters to help and advice each other.

Peter Barry, managing director of Great Yarmouth-based Pasta Foods, said expanding credit insurance offered to exporters would be 'beneficial' to businesses seeking overseas customers, and help reduce costs.

The company sells to 40 countries, with exports accounting for 60pc of sales.

He said while services offering details of sales opportunities already exist, which while they had 'never been of any use' to Pasta Foods could be a 'good way of opening the door' to companies that weren't already exporting.

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But he called on the government to offer simple advice to firms on how to go about exporting.

He added: 'All businesses need to do to export is follow certain basic steps, and the government could do more to advertise what these steps are.'

Colin Cordy, managing director of St Peter's Brewery in Bungay, which sells in 33 overseas countries, said extending credit insurance to exporters of fast moving consumer goods, including beer, would be a welcome step.

But he accused the government of 'reinventing the wheel' with the online services, which he said used to be offered by other organisations which had been abolished in government cuts.

Mike Robinson, director of Norwich-based API Engineering, said the announcements did not seem 'particularly helpful', and called for 'targeted assistance' to help businesses enter new markets, for example help with travel and exhibition costs companies face to see if they are able to do business in a new market.

He added: 'The return the government gets in terms of additional payroll and corporation taxes from successful exporters should more than offset any assistance given.'

Figures released yesterday showed while UK exports had increased by more than 99pc between 1998 and 2008, imports had risen at a steeper rate, up more than 111pc.

Business secretary Vince Cable said: 'Trade and inward investment are key drivers of growth - they are fundamental to rebuilding and re-balancing our economy.'

He added: 'These are practical measures to help drive growth.'