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Trade minister unveils plan to make UK export 'superpower'
[LONDON] Britain will bid to become an "exporting superpower" after Brexit, Trade Secretary Liam Fox said on Tuesday as he unveiled the government's future export strategy.
The country, which is set to leave the European Union in March next year, will aim to increase exports as a proportion of GDP by five percentage points over the long-term, he announced.
Britain sold a record £620 billion (S$1.08 trillion) of goods and services overseas in 2017, accounting for 30 per cent of GDP, boosted by the recent weakness in the value of the pound.
The government and business groups believe it can raise this proportion to 35 per cent.
"UK businesses are superbly placed to capitalise on the rapid changes in the global economic environment and I believe the UK has the potential to be a 21st century exporting superpower," Mr Fox told a business audience in London.
"As we leave the EU, we must set our sights high and that is just what this export strategy will help us achieve."
The plan comes amid growing anxiety about the impact of Britain leaving the bloc without the prospect of a future trade deal.
This could hamper exports to the EU, Britain's largest market, if tariff-free trade ends post-Brexit.
Opposition Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, a former business minister, called Tuesday's target unveiling "meaningless" in the current climate.
"The government's own economic analysis shows that non-EU trade deals would not come close to making up for the loss of EU trade," he said.
"Relying on a mirage of trade deals with parties outside the EU is at best a gamble, at worst fantastical."
The government estimates that 400,000 British businesses could export but currently do not, while the Confederation of British Industry or CBI believes 10 per cent of companies in every region of the country fit that category.
The plan will encourage firms to export with an awareness campaign highlighting up to £50 billion worth of export finance and insurance support on offer.
It will also aim to connect them to "overseas buyers, markets and each other" with more online information and international promotion of British companies.
"This strategy is a first step - a foundation - for a new national drive to export," said Rona Fairhead, a junior trade minister.
CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn welcomed the plan.
"The CBI has consistently called for a long-term approach to exports," she said.
"Previous strategies have come and gone, but businesses have been let down by their execution."
Britain's export market jumped 11 per cent last year, helping to narrow its trade deficit.
But exports fell and imports rose in the three months to June, widening the deficit by £4.7 billion, amid the Brexit uncertainty and global tensions over trade.