19 April 2018
Daniel Taylor / NZTE Trade Commissioner / London
19th century UK Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli could have been talking to New Zealand businesses today when he said, “London is a roost for every bird” – although I’m sure if he was writing today he’d expand his comment to include the wider United Kingdom.
Since the first shipment of chilled New Zealand meat arrived in Britain in 1882, the UK has been an attractive market for New Zealand goods and services – and while Brexit has caused a few tremors, the economy appears to be holding up well. Retail spending is strong, infrastructure continues to attract investment, and both public and private organisations remain focussed on finding innovative solutions to improve productivity.
Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community (the forerunner to the European Union) in 1973 forced New Zealand to reassess and diversify our international markets, and whilst overall export quantity to Britain reduced considerably, a focus on quality persisted, and this remains the case today. Our traditional strengths, such as food and beverage and agritech remain important, as do emerging export sectors including health, technology, and services.
The UK is a large, sophisticated and highly competitive commercial environment, meaning there is no place for businesses who aren’t prepared to fully commit the time, resource and capital required to be successful. For those that do make the commitment, the potential prize is a large. Access to affluent and discerning consumers, a beachhead in to wider Europe, and a profile on the global stage are available to those that get it right - and there are plenty of New Zealand companies that are getting it right!
Tait Communications’ selection as the radio communications provider for Transport for London’s iconic red buses, Wayfairer’s entry into high-end supermarket Waitrose with their Karma Cola brand and Howard Wright’s supply of medical stretchers to one of the UK’s busiest Accident and Emergency Department at Croydon University Hospital are just three examples of New Zealand businesses succeeding in this market. All three successes are characterised by companies that have done their homework, know their customers really well, have a great story to tell, and were willing to persist in pursuit of the right opportunities.
Whilst the UK’s impending departure from the EU (so-called ‘Brexit’) will create some market uncertainty, I would argue that this will actually provide opportunity for New Zealand businesses. In times of uncertainty, businesses that can be focussed, nimble, and awake to the needs of their customers can gain an advantage over slower, less responsive competitors. Customer focus and responsiveness is a hallmark of New Zealand companies that have been successful in this market over the last 130 years, and I don’t see this changing any time soon. In addition, the positive statements being made by the UK government about the desire for a high-quality free trade agreement with New Zealand give cause for optimism.
As the global economy continues to evolve, strong long-term relationships like that enjoyed between New Zealand businesses and their UK partners become even more important. Like any long-term relationship we’ve been through a lot together, and that stands us in very good stead for whatever the future might hold.