New gateway for British business opens in Asia

April 14, 2010

Ash VermaAsh Verma is Chairman, Gateway Business Consultants Limited and Founder of Gateway Asia. The opinions expressed are his own. –

London has long had a reputation as a city where entrepreneurs from Asia have come to seek their fortune.  From its early 19th century roots when Sake Dean Mahomed opened up Britain’s first Indian restaurant and introduced the city to shampoo, London’s Indian diaspora has now grown into one of the largest communities outside the country. The Chinese community in London, too, is Europe’s oldest and largest.

London’s entrepreneurs should therefore be among the best placed in the world to export back to massively expanding markets in India and China. However, despite these powerful diasporas, we are not as a city or country doing as well as we should as exporters to these countries.

UK exports to India did increase last year but that was only because the values of diamonds shot up as a result of the global economic downturn. Only around one percent of the UK’s total exports go to India despite the UK having a Diaspora of one million people.  In its exports to China the UK is still a long way behind countries including Australia and Germany.
Nine out of ten businesses in Britain don’t export at all.  And it is many of these companies that could find fertile markets if they looked east.  While there is no shortage of initiatives branded as helping exporters, they do not always offer the business to business hands-on help that research shows that companies want before exporting to India and China.

Even for those with family links, these countries remain difficult places to do business.  According to a report from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, India and China rank 122nd and 183rd respectively in estimates of their ease for businesses  – compared to a sixth place ranking for the UK.
Our research shows that companies are being put off by practical obstacles – from coping with exchange rate fluctuation to understanding letters of credit and preparing goods for transport. Many fear that they will see their property rights get lost in a thicket of bureaucracy.
Though much Olympic-related attention goes to the multiculturalism in the east of the City, it is in the western boroughs around Heathrow where Chinese, Gujurati, Tamil, Punjabi and Pakistani minority communities have built up strong small and family businesses that offer the greatest potential for trade links.
We have attempted to fill the gaps in provision for SMEs by establishing “Gateway Asia” – the largest and most coordinated attempt to help West London’s small businesses build on their “family connections” to export to India and China.

The 1.2 million pound Gateway Asia Programme, which provides free support to any SME under 250 employees, funded by a mixture of public and private sector partners including HSBC, BAA, TCS and the Mayor’s London Development Agency, is expected to help around 250 businesses.
The initiative will give free hard-nosed practical advice through ten workshops and one-to-one advice on the practical obstacles that exporters to the East will face – from transport to packaging.  One of the partners, HSBC, are using their branch network across London and overseas to support trade delegations and to spot potential collaborations between their clients. Meanwhile, thethe Confederation of Indian Industry will put London businesses in touch with potential trading partners in India.
Among the first to sign up is the American Muffin Company, a business based in West London that wants to export its range of luxury brownies and cookies – currently supplied to UK supermarkets – into India.   And Bina Mistry, the writer and singer of  Indian hit “Hot, Hot, Hot” from Bend it Like Beckham is being helped by Gateway Asia’s help to export singing and dancing shows back to Bollywood. This could be a lucrative export market for the wealth of film producers, actors, scriptwriters, animators and events management companies working in West London.
Napoleon once said of China. “Let her sleep, for when she awakes she will shake the world”.  China and India have long-since awakened as powerful traders; it is London’s businesses that need to rise from their slumber if they are to use their natural advantages to prosper in the East.

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