Region’s firms boosted by export growth

The region's business saw an uplift in overseas orders last year, boosting hopes of an export-led recovery.

Regional trade estimates from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs yesterday showed businesses in the East of England exported goods worth �22.7bn in 2010, up 11pc from 2009.

While the rise was smaller than the 16.2pc nationally, HMRC said the number of companies exporting in the East of England rose at a faster rate than any other UK region between the last quarters of 2009 and 2010, up 5.7pc.

The positive figures come as the Office for National Statistics reported that UK manufacturing grew in January at its fastest annual rate in 16 years, up 6.8pc year-on-year.

The coalition government has made increasing exports a priority to securing economic growth and reducing unemployment as the public sector contracts.

Business leaders in the region welcomed the export figures.

Chris Starkie, chief executive of economic development body Shaping Norfolk's Future, said: 'It's healthy to see a rise in the numbers of companies exporting and the volume of exports.

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'Favourable exchange rates mean there are great opportunities for companies in the region to consider growing exports or try and break into new overseas markets.'

He said there was still help available for companies looking to export, for example through Norfolk Chamber of Commerce.

The biggest increase in exports from the region was in manufactured goods, up about �900m at �8.6bn, followed by mineral fuels, up about �500m to �2.1bn.

Peter Lamble, managing director of Norwich-based shoe firm Start-rite, said export markets offered significant opportunities to the region's businesses.

He said Start-rite had made a 'firm commitment' to increase its international trading in the past few years.

Late last year the company signed an agreement with a Hong Kong-based firm which will begin sales in China this year.

Start-rite is also set to open its first Chinese store, in Guangzhou, and had also reached a deal with a major shoe retailer in the Middle East.

Mr Lamble added: 'For businesses generally, many overseas markets offer healthier trading economies than in the UK.

'They include France and Germany closer to home, for instance, and China further afield, making them appealing export targets.

'For East of England companies specifically, the communications and infrastructure networks available to regional businesses makes trading to the continent a cost-effective and less challenging route to market, perhaps more so than some areas of the UK.'

Last month, government proposals aimed at boosting exports from small and medium sized firms received a mixed reaction from Norfolk firms.

The plans included a 'peer-to-peer' exchange website to enable exporters to help and advise one another and expanding credit insurance.

Export body UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) was also set to champion Norwich's life sciences businesses at an international trade event, the International business Innovation Zone, at London's ExCel, yesterday.