Boomtime for East of England exports

Exports in the East of England boomed last year, with manufacturing sales reaching nearly £18bn.

In fact, the region was one of the UK’s top exporters, according to Export Dividend report from Barclays Bank.

UK exports were worth a staggering £176bn to the economy last year, with four regions – including the East of England — accounting for more than half these sales.

Despite ongoing economic turbulence, Barclays’ research showed most manufacturers are emerging from the pandemic with revenues intact. Over a quarter of companies surveyed (particularly SMEs) said they had achieved better growth in 2021 than in a ‘normal’ year.

The study also revealed a bullish mood among exporters, despite lingering concerns over Covid and supply chains. Admittedly, a number of tough challenges remain: rising labour costs is cited as the most common one, followed by supply chain disruption, and driver shortages.

However, manufacturers are finding innovative ways to circumvent supply chain upheaval by diversifying their global supply base, setting up overseas warehouse space, or bringing the supply chain to the UK (onshoring) or closer to home (nearshoring).

Manufacturers’ most desirable markets may be in flux, but UK products are very much in demand in growth markets such as China, India and the UAE. Europe remains a significant trading partner, although the bank’s research shows a significant number of manufacturers seeking new customers beyond the EU. The US retains its place as the top overseas market, but current exporters are most likely to trading in Canada, India and Latin America.

Regional firms are very supportive of the proposed freeports at Felixstowe and Harwich, which will allow manufacturers to import materials without the usual tariffs. Ninety-three per cent of firms surveyed in the East of England said they plan to make use of the freeports once open.

Based on the number of firms planning to export for the first time, Barclays estimates that the region could make further big gains in the coming years.

Mike Freer MP, Minister for Exports, said: “2022 will be a 5-star year for UK trade, with ambitions for 80 per cent of UK trade to be covered by existing and new trade agreements by the end of the calendar year, alongside the launch of talks with India, Mexico, Canada, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.”

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