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Play to our strengths and focus our efforts

UK Trade. The New Agenda.

3 August 2021

In our first report we set a four-point agenda for change; this report is the fourth in the series, and picks up on one of the action points: the need for the UK to play to our strengths and focus our efforts.

If the UK is to become a more successful exporter, we must rethink how well-placed it is to serve the global economy. With export markets increasingly competitive, the UK can’t expect to be good at everything, and our clients have told us they are ready for a constructive debate around where the focus should be, and which sectors should be prioritised. There is a sense that the UK's national prosperity would be better served by focusing resources on a few world-beating sectors - where we already have a comparative advantage - rather than trying to up our game in weaker sectors, or enter markets that are already dominated by other territories.

Concentrating on a few sectors, at the expense of spreading our export support resources across many, is easy to say but hard to do. Prioritising some sectors implies de-prioritising others, which is a complex trade-off for the Government in particular. But we believe that bringing the debate into the open could bring balance to the UK's portfolio of priorities - in both existing and new areas - which support the national agenda.

Exploring our priorities

We believe that to achieve the right balance, the UK should prioritise the following:

1. Supporting ‘export titans’

The UK must do everything we can to support our ‘export titans’ - sectors where we are already leaders on the world stage and that drive our overall export performance. These might include, for example, aerospace and defence, financial services, professional services, the pharmaceutical and life sciences sector, the education sector, and creative industries.

2. Building economic resilience

During the pandemic, it has become evident that there are sectors and gaps in our supply chain that need reinforcing to increase our economic resilience. Investment can drive this in a number of ways, for example by procurement-led and regulator-driven opportunities in infrastructure, automotive and manufacturing, among other sub-sectors.

3. Maximising growth areas

The UK is at the cutting edge of emerging sectors such as artificial intelligence, space, advanced manufacturing, quantum computing, cyber security and green technologies. To keep our edge, the UK must drive investment in innovation and R&D. These will be prominent sectors in the post-pandemic world, and have the ability to help expand our economy.

4. Focusing on the future

The UK needs to look at the future needs of the global economy, and consider how it is best placed to serve these needs. We need to challenge ourselves on where the gaps are, and which ones we can fill with higher levels of specialism.

Contact us

Matthew Alabaster

Matthew Alabaster

Partner, Strategy&, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7866 727124

Dr David Armstrong

Dr David Armstrong

Consulting Partner, Government & Health Industries leader for PwC Northern Ireland, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7713 680266

Dr Jonathan Gillham

Dr Jonathan Gillham

Chief Economist and Director of Econometrics and Economic Modelling, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7714 567297

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