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Resilience and renewal

From the glens to graphene: Getting the most from international markets

Author: ICAEW

Published: 07 Nov 2023

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Participation in international markets is vital for domestic economic success. Two companies share their success stories and explain what would make it easier to get more UK companies trading overseas.

Healthy international trade links are a vital component of a healthy economy. Businesses trading overseas typically experience stronger growth and greater productivity, because it drives more innovation and access to new markets.

As our long-read article points out, analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown that companies participating in international trade were more productive than non-traders, with trading businesses recording exports or imports 21% and 20% respectively more productive than those not trading overseas.

But even though the benefits of international trade are clear, the UK is not doing enough of it. Government statistics show that, at the end of 2021, 11.4% of non-financial businesses in Great Britain exported overseas. While it’s not appropriate for all businesses, particularly small businesses serving local communities, to export, experts agree there is significant room for improvement.

In fact the UK’s growth in international trade has been sluggish since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008. Analysis from the Social Market Foundation, for instance, shows that since the GFC, the UK has struggled to grow exports of goods at a similar rate to before 2008 and that by the end of 2019, there was a 26% shortfall between where goods exports would have been had previous trends continued and the actual position. 

For many businesses, trade is a necessary part of their growth plans. And if the right policies are not in place to support those businesses, the UK could lose a number of its brightest prospects – and with them the fulfilling jobs, careers and capital that they provide to their local economies. As this third and final film in our series shows, two firms who have found a way to harness the benefits of international markets are Paragraf, a manufacturer of graphene-based semiconductors and Ian Macleod Distillers, a family-owned firm that exports single-malt whiskies among a range of other spirits.

Both companies depend on international markets every day. As Charles Platts, ACA and CFO of Paragraf, explains in the film, a lot of their customers are abroad, as are a lot of the raw materials they need to make their products. And for Ian Macleod, 60% of their sales come from abroad. Platts and Mike Younger, ACA and FD of Ian Macleod, outline what they have learnt about engaging successfully with international markets from the UK and explain what would make it easier for them and many of their peer companies.

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