What are the opportunities for export in this region?

From the faux pas of refusing vodka in Russia to a handshake that is too firm in Hong Kong – there are many tales of the pitfalls of doing business abroad.

Aside from the cultural aspects, many firms in this part of world have found that well-known cliche that there really is a whole world out and they have balance sheets to prove the point.

Latest export figures show that the eastern region is exporting more than ever and to more places in the world than ever.

This region accounts for almost one pound in every 10 of what the UK sells to the rest of the world, according to HM Revenue & Customs.

In the 12 months to the end of September, exports from the East of England reached �26.56bn, 20pc up against the year to the end of September 2010. Despite the eurozone crisis, exports to the European Union rose by 28pc over the same period to �16.96bn, with only London showing a faster rate of increase.

The figures also reveal big year-on-year rises in exports to Eastern European countries outside the EU (up more than 80pc to �702m), Latin America (up 22pc to �386m) and Asia and Oceania (up 13pc to �3.17bn).

But are there more riches to be had? The government thinks so and it believes a key pillar of delivering the UK growth agenda and rebalancing the economy will be exporting our goods.

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At Norfolk Chamber of Commerce's Unlocking Growth conference at the Open venue in Norwich this month the importance of exports was a key theme of business secretary Vince Cable's speech. He said there was much potential for export and investment in East Anglia.

Tracey Howard, international trade director at Norfolk Chamber of Commerce agrees.

She said that there were many companies in Norfolk which were not aware or taking advantage of the export opportunities available.

'I've spend the last couple of years trying to push the companies that are in contact with us that aren't doing much in the way of exporting,' she said. 'It is existing exporters that are busy at the moment.'

She particularly singled out United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt as well as China, India, New Zealand and Turkey as places Norfolk chamber members were busy.

Next year the chamber is organising an event focused on Turkey and Libya, which she believes will provide opportunities as it rebuilds itself.

And with Football World Cup events and Olympics going to Latin America she said there would be opportunities there too.

'They are areas where we can see a lot more opportunities,' said Mrs Howard.

But despite a big push and all the rhetoric around exporting, she said it was still a challenge to get companies to think about it.

'People just aren't taking the next step themselves. They need to be coerced. There is so much business out there.'

One company that has been a really successful in the export market is Norwich company LJ Create, which sells hardware, software and e-learning curriculum used by schools, colleges, universities and industrial training organisations around the world. It has been exporting since 1979.

International sales manager Gerardo Flores said the company was finding markets in middle and central Asia, in particular places like Kazakstan where there is a lot of money and very reduced education.

'Kenya is a market where there are a lot of resources from development agencies, in particular from the UK. We look at these ones as well. It is not just the ones with money,' he said. 'We do want to look at markets with potential and that is a reflection on what is happening in the UK. The UK is very slow. Budgets have been cut. We have to find alternative situations.'

He said there were many competitors in the export market for them.

'We have a number of companies that compete with us. In Germany, Italy. The competition is quite tough.'

He said the key for his company was to find a good distributor in the country where it wanted to export.

'It is going to be your eyes and brain in that country,' he said. 'They take care of the bureaucracy and documentation. They do all the things that we can't do at arms length.'

Mr Flores agreed there was help from the government with exporting, but said that in his experience it did not compare to that of competitors.

'The Germans pay for international shows. They put in more resources than UKTI [UK Trade & Investment],' he explained.

'The overseas markets. The Germans, Italians and Spanish. They provide more support.'

Liz Basing, UKTI regional director for the East of England who is charged with helping people to export, said there was plenty of help to be had from UKTI (see panel). UKTI also runs competitions

'The East of England has a long and proud history of exporting which continues to this day, as the record export figures posted in the last 12 months have shown. But while it's right to shout about this success, the reality is that not enough SMEs [small and medium enterprises] export their products.

'Companies that export improve their financial performance, are more productive and are more likely to stay in business.

'There is demand all around the world for products from the East of England but many of our smaller firms are missing out on these opportunities.'

She said that UKTI helped SMEs which hadn't exported before or exported a bit by accident because overseas companies had ordered something off their website.

'There are companies which are looking to expand. There are companies who haven't previously been exporting who are thinking about it.

'The service we offer is everything from a first chat with a company about what exports might mean for it and how to start thinking about it.'

She said they would help companies put together a plan for overseas trade.

UKTI helped King's Lynn company PCL Ceramics. Martin Greene, sales and marketing director for PCL, met with Leszek Wysocki, international trade adviser for the East of England, in November 2009, and decided to build UKTI's help into PCL's export business more strategically.

'Our business relies heavily on the global marketplace, and more than 85pc of our work gets exported overseas. So it is vital for us to be able to meet prospective clients and distributors all over the world. UKTI has assisted us with some financial support for trade shows and exhibitions.

'Recently, they [UKTI] provided funding towards our trade visits to Mexico and Bangladesh. We also received funds towards exhibitions in China, Italy and Germany.

'Without UKTI's financial support, we may not have been able to afford all these visits and, as a result, would have had to prioritise.'

So the message from government, chambers and companies who are already doing it is that there are export opportunities to be had. And there is the help if you look for it.