Accessing emerging markets

This time of year, many companies are taking stock and planning ahead for the next 12 months. It’s a time to look back on the successes of the past year, and to work out where growth is going to be found in the coming months and beyond.

While no business should ignore its main clients, and Europe remains a market of half a billion people, my hope is that as we emerge from the holiday season into January, business people will ask themselves one question: “why don’t we diversify the markets we trade with?”

In a difficult economic climate, with slow growth and uncertainty throughout Europe, this may seem like an unlikely option. When I travel around the country meeting businesses, they are worried about over-stretching their resources, investing in activity that has no sure return and whether now is the right time to expand.

These are legitimate concerns. Whether you are selling at home or overseas, there is always an equation of risk versus return, and a wrong decision can be the difference between success and failure.

The lesson here is that it’s vital to get your research done. My department, UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), can help your firm identify new markets through programmes like Gateway to Global Growth, which is targeted specifically at experienced exporters.

It is in the UK’s long-term interest we start building relationships with countries that are growing fast, such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, and states in the Middle East.

UKTI has identified high-value opportunities – contracts worth over £1 billion – that UK firms can band together to bid for. From airport contracts in Malaysia, Oman and China; oil and gas projects in Kazakhstan; hospital projects in Saudi Arabia or South Africa; global sports contracts around the Sochi and Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the FIFA World Cups in Brazil, Russia and Qatar.

Some firms worry that no one will want their products overseas. I constantly travel to the 100 or so markets in which UKTI operates. I was in Russia just a few weeks ago and the Middle East before that. I know that there is a huge demand for British products and services around the world, particularly in areas where the fast-growing middle classes want to spend on the things that the UK is so good at producing.

By December 2013, you may be asking yourself which market should I sell to next?

Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint is Minister of State for Trade and Investment, and was  formerly group chairman of HSBC Holdings, chairman of the British Bankers’ Association and chairman of the Prime Minister’s Business Council for Britain.