With Brexit negotiations commencing this week, one year post referendum and less than two years before we are set to leave the EU, Britain has become a central focus for businesses globally. As businesses seek international trade connections outwith the political process, likewise, overseas markets are keen to ensure they maintain a strong relationship with their important trade partner – the UK.
With the recent election outcome of a hung Parliament, the political uncertainty throughout the country feels deeper than ever. As our politicians have become preoccupied with politics rather than government, foreign politicians are being proactive in extending their hands as welcoming neighbours; seeking and encouraging FTAs to protect their export economy.
After recently hosting a visit from the Ministry of Economic Opportunities from Western Cape, it is clear that the scope for two way trade is apparent – and that Edinburgh has much to offer. The Western Cape seek collaboration in Financial Services, FinTech, ICT, Tourism and renewable energy – all sectors in which Scotland, in particular Edinburgh, has leading expertise. Our knowledge economy is one of our best assets. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that our global suppliers are keen to have FTAs outwith the EU agreement post Brexit and that these trade agreements do not impose barriers or detrimental changes to the current trade conditions currently being enjoyed.
This increased focus on international business will inevitably draw focus on our Capital city’s links with the rest of the world. Edinburgh Airport recently signed an MOU with Beijing Airport agreeing to ongoing collaboration and knowledge-sharing which should, in time, lead to a direct flight between the two airports. This will have a significant economic impact for Scotland. As much as 20 times more trade flows between countries with direct flights.
Whilst the expansion at Heathrow Airport will bring greater connectivity as the UK’s hub airport, Scotland needs to invest in attracting more direct flights to key markets. Edinburgh Airport has seen record growth in the past five years. Built in the 1970s to handle one million passengers a year, more than 13 million passengers now pass through this rapidly expanding airport. And the reason for this? Edinburgh Airport has been extremely proactive in targeting and delivering new airlines and direct flights that are hugely beneficial for trade, education and tourism. The business sector and government must get behind them as the ultimate beneficiaries of their effort and investment.
Forth Ports are also investing extensively in preparation for Brexit. Whilst a hard border with Europe means greater scrutiny of goods in transit and potential delays through customs, planning now for the infrastructure and processes to deal with this means we can mitigate the impact.
Forth Ports are working hard to maintain Edinburgh’s international reputation, ensuring they have the infrastructure, processes and people in place to continue their operations in spite of any changes which may occur as a result of Brexit. With an application for AEO status underway, ports could see quicker access to simplified customs procedures and in some cases, the right to ‘fast-track’ shipments.
Enterprise is alive and well in Edinburgh but it needs support and investment. Cities are the engine of growth for Scotland. Glasgow and Edinburgh need to work together as a central belt region for economies of scale that will bring greater return on investment. We now need the funding and focus from government to ensure we have the infrastructure, skills and innovation that will form the cornerstone of a strong, global economy creating jobs and opportunities.
Liz McAreavey is the chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce