International Trade Roundtable Discussion (Thursday 28th September)

Inverness Chamber of Commerce recently facilitated an international trade roundtable discussion as part of Highland Business Week 2023. Bringing together a group of diverse businesses and intermediaries from across the Highlands & Islands region, we were seeking to discuss current challenges and barriers to exporting and expanding overseas.

The discussion was facilitated by Seona Shand, International Trade Director at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and chaired by Colin Marr, Chief Executive at Inverness Chamber of Commerce.

From the outset, it was clear to see a number of key emerging themes as the discussion progressed – some of these being general barriers to trading over international borders, and some more specific to the Highlands & Islands region.

Connectivity – continues to be a challenge in terms of logistics, transport and infrastructure. Businesses on the Islands continue to be affected by ferry delays, presenting challenges to exporting before the goods have even reached the mainland. Companies in the Highlands & Islands face significant challenges with connectivity before they have even begun exporting as a result of insufficient road and rail infrastructure as well as the costs associated.

Brexit – political bureaucracies still appear to be causing issues for UK companies seeking to export. Lack of consistency across EU markets is also evident with some EU ports and customs officers having different rules to others in terms of paperwork requirements and format (ie. Some ports want physical copies and others will accept electronic). This can cause costly delays to UK companies and acts as a major barrier to exporting.

Contacts – not knowing where to start with making contacts in market is a key barrier to exporting that we hear on a regular basis. Food and Drink businesses are particularly interested in finding distributors or agents in their chosen markets but are unaware of who to speak to in order to get the right introductions. Working with organisations including Scotland Food & Drink to promote events such as “Showcasing Scotland” can be beneficial to help companies maximise their network of contacts and present new opportunities. This can also be where the SCC network’s trade missions can provide an excellent platform to make connections in market. 

Access to Skills and Labour (Staffing / Resources) – This is a barrier that affects all sectors and is not only a barrier to international trade. Many businesses would like to increase exports but struggle to find resources to keep business operations running day to day. Brexit has also had a huge impact on access to skills and factors such as Scotland’s ageing population and the aftermath of Covid also continue to have an impact on staff shortages.

Knowledge and Capability – for businesses new to exporting, it can be complex to navigate the ever-changing regulations. Key elements such as commodity codes, Incoterms and rules of origin can be confusing and can result in costly mistakes, leaving no room for errors. This is where Inverness Chamber can offer extensive support and training to ensure these issues are clearly addressed at the outset.

Other barriers include:

  • Access to finance
  • Costs of doing business (both in general and overseas) – ie. Costs of raw materials, rising energy costs, container/transport costs in general, staff training.
  • Differences between business cultures across different markets
  • Lack of mentor support and knowledge sharing 
  • Lack of co-ordinated approach (between public and private sector). Feedback we had from members highlighted that public sector agencies need to be better linked with private businesses.

Given the challenging business climate, we appreciate the time taken for members to contribute to this discussion and for highlighting these key issues. As a network, we can ensure we continue to lobby on behalf of our members and continue to adapt our services to ensure we are offering the most appropriate support.

With 90 Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) signed across the Scottish Chambers of Commerce network with countries all over the world, and more than 30 Chambers of Commerce in Scotland – the Chamber network is an excellent place to start when thinking about trading internationally. 

Inverness Chamber of Commerce are well equipped to support companies of all sizes and sectors with their international trade ambitions and we invite businesses to get in touch with us to discuss how we can support your global trade. Contact us:

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