Supporting our trade networks will help accelerate the recovery, argues IAN HOUSTON
Economies around the world have suffered deep wounds from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and as the recovery begins to take hold it is essential that Scotland and the UK accelerate growth by investing even further in building trade capacity. The inclination is to build out at the top, but greater focus must be placed at the ground level, tilling, and enriching local businesses and the network of support organisations who can help stimulate trade.
It is important for the UK and Scotland to keep pace with globalisation in order to boost exports, proven to drive job creation, attract investment and foster innovation. But this is not an end in itself. Greater focus on international trade will draw greater attention as to why Scotland and the UK are attractive places to do business, research, study, and call home.
In this regard, the Scottish Government has produced several insightful reports including the Inward Investment and Trading Nation papers which demonstrate Scotland’s ambitions. I have also found the new Think Scotland videos helpful, and under the Scotland is Now banner a host of inspirational messaging continues to emerge.
The US is Scotland’s number one international trading market and the support and capacity available for Scottish and British businesses is available for small and large businesses alike. In Washington DC, the Scottish Office within the British Embassy is bringing strategic energy, and the impact of the UK Department for International Trade and British Consulates in the US and beyond is significant.
Additionally, the US Embassy London and the US Consulate in Edinburgh play a key role in trade and commerce. Then there are support entities and networks such as the Scottish Development International, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Business Network, Global Scots, Scottish North American Business Council, Entrepreneurial Scotland and so many other actors engaging in the US and in other international locations that help promote global engagement and trade for Scotland.
I have been particularly intrigued by a recent paper from the Scottish Chambers of Commerce called “Rally for Growth” which offers an insightful and authoritative roadmap for building the Scottish economy. It is particularly interesting to view this paper from the United States where the economy is accelerating at pace and is rich in new opportunities for Scottish companies. One key theme of the report focuses correctly on expanding international trade.
In my role as President of SBN in North America, I see one of the unheralded instruments of diplomacy, trade, and global engagement for Scotland this last year has been virtual international trade missions; an area in which Scottish Chambers of Commerce Network is an industry-leader.
‘I admire how Scottish businesses and local Chambers have been resilient in these times and continued to persevere with maintaining and building international trade links’
Through my direct interactions with the Scottish Chambers Network, I have seen first-hand how people to people and business to business connections secure trade opportunities. These interactions are business-led and are additional to the formal channels of diplomacy but are remarkably effective in building relationships, broadening understanding, and fostering goodwill.
Even through the pandemic, I was able to participate in numerous SCC Network virtual trade missions that were vibrant, positive, and reached widely from West Coast to East Coast. I admire how Scottish businesses and local Chambers have been resilient in these times and continued to persevere with maintaining and building international trade links.
During these missions, I listened to individual businesses and their representatives from a range of sectors passionately speak about their goals and what makes them unique. Each time I come away inspired from the convening power that Chambers of Commerce hold in any part of the world and the positive trade impacts they make for local business communities.
It is for these reasons that I believe that Scottish Chambers of Commerce stands out as a leader amongst the pack as a result of its laser-focused approach to foster international links and secure new trading opportunities for Scottish businesses. It’s clear that Chambers of Commerce are ideally placed to accelerate growth and unleash business-to-business connections that expand trade opportunities.
That’s why I believe the Scottish and UK Government should direct more resources to business-led networks such as the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. Now is the moment to direct more resources that further empower business-led networks to build capacity, and raise their game to advance global connections.
From my experience, local Chambers are well managed, credible and influential in operating on the international stage. However, if we are to realise the benefits of international trade on the scale we need to achieve economic growth then we need to ramp up investment in our local business-led networks at all levels.
Of course, there are many spending priorities for the Scottish, UK and international Governments to consider, but a bold and innovative move would be to increase the share of budgets to expand capabilities for local Chambers which would yield benefits for years to come. By doing so, not only would Scottish businesses be afforded a wider choice of markets and trading opportunities but world consumers and the global marketplace will benefit because of the high quality of products and services emanating from Scotland.
Now is the time to further a global trade vision by deepening investment in business-led networks and innovative projects.
Ian Houston is president of the Scottish Business Network (SBN) US and Ambassador for SBN in Washington DC.