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Home to more than 24,000 exporters, the South East is a region of ambitious and aspirational businesses. Exports of goods from the region rose 10.9% to £45.2bn during 2017 compared with the previous 12 months, according to the most recent figures from HMRC.

The tenacity of the region’s firms is also reflected in the latest Business in Britain report from Lloyds Bank. It showed that more than a third (34%) of businesses across the South East expect their overseas sales to increase over the coming months. 


The US

According to ONS figures from September 2017, the most common destination for South East exports is the United States, with 20% of the region’s firms already selling their goods and services into the American market. The figures also reveal that demand for British-made products across the Atlantic continues to grow. Common language and similar business culture are no doubt part of the reason that the United States is such a popular trading partner.



China is also a popular export destination for South East firms.  HMRC statistics produced in March show that South East exports of goods to China in 2017 was £1.8 billion, and that China is the region’s seventh largest export market.  The business landscape in China is diverse and not without challenges, but offers South East firms their pick of various industries to start trading with.

But local firms shouldn’t limit themselves to well-documented destinations such as China and the U.S. There are many more opportunities in less obvious markets. For example, Thailand is an increasingly attractive economy for British firms to export to as it implements its 4.0 industrial strategy. To encourage firms to make the most of this opportunity, Dr Liam Fox has raised finance for British businesses looking to export goods and services to £4.5bn. 


As well as benefitting from the strong reputation that British-made goods enjoy across the world, firms in the South East can also capitalise on their relative proximity to the Port of Dover and Port of Southampton, the UK’s second largest container terminal and most productive container port. Dover offers a gateway to a world of export opportunities and is currently undergoing a £250 million transformation as part of the Dover Western Docks Revival development. The investment is intended to future-proof the port equipping it to fulfil its potential in international trading for many years to come. 

Having this as a ‘local’ port presents a unique advantage for the region’s businesses to begin or build on their exporting activity. 

But how can businesses drum up interest from overseas markets in the first place? 

Finding prospective customers, buyers and distributors can be one of the biggest hurdles to starting exporting. Thankfully, in an increasingly digital and connected world, it is possible to reach a global audience in a way that doesn’t involve building a dedicated ecommerce website. Online marketplaces, including Amazon and eBay, offer both start-ups and established businesses a wealth of opportunities to grow their presence across international markets. This is particularly true for smaller firms that may not be able to afford the overhead costs of having a sales team on the ground in their target overseas market. Trading via an established online platform may help to minimise the costs associated with kick-starting the export process.

A firm setting out to export for the first time will always face some challenges, as they would with any new venture. It’s important that businesses don’t underestimate some of the barriers they may encounter along the way, but also that they don’t let these dampen their enthusiasm. For every hurdle there is support available to help companies overcome any challenge. 


The Department for International Trade

From the outset, identifying the right export markets where there is sufficient demand and a gap for a business’s products is key to success, and the Department for International Trade’s (DIT) Exporting is GREAT campaign sets out to help businesses do exactly this. 

DIT’s network of International Trade Advisers (ITAs), based right here on the ground in the South East, can help a company develop and refine its export strategy, offer insights into the different business cultures and help define the best route to market. We know from the businesses we’ve already supported that travelling to a country is a good way to get to grips with trading there, and that’s why DIT organises trade missions and supports companies looking to exhibit at trade shows overseas. Not only that, but DIT’s teams based overseas can help to make introductions to key buyers and distributors, helping to generate leads. 

Firms should also be sensitive to the varying legislative requirements of different overseas markets, particularly if they operate in heavily regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals or food and drink. Furthermore, regulatory systems can be complex and difficult to navigate, especially for a first-time exporter. However, ITAs are well placed to provide support and facilitate introductions to specialists so companies can overcome these challenges. DIT also has access to a network of intellectual property liaison officers located in South East Asia, China, Brazil and India who can provide support for UK businesses seeking advice on local IP matters. 

Whether it’s forming international relationships through exhibitions and meet the buyer events, or workshops and one-to-one advice sessions, our South East advisers are available to support the region’s businesses in taking full advantage of international demand for the products and services they sell. 

Firms in the South East of England looking for exporting support should contact the region’s DIT team by email on info@tradesoutheast.com  or 0330 300 0012.

They can also visit great.gov.uk, which gives businesses across the UK access to millions of pounds’ worth of potential overseas business opportunities.

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