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UK tech firms urged to seek out international opportunities

Tech Nation study finds UK businesses are in a strong position to take advantage of global tech growth

UK digital tech services exports dipped between 2018 and 2019, according to research from Tech Nation. In its latest Unlocking global tech report, the organisation urges UK technology businesses to maintain and build international trading relationships to build back better from Covid-19.

The report found that the UK was the fifth greatest digital tech services exporter in the world, at £23.3bn in 2019, sitting behind India, the US, China and Germany in the global rankings. According to Tech Nation, this is driven by a relatively high number (7,497) of high-growth exporting tech companies in the UK, many of which are yet to realise their full exporting potential. 

The report’s authors wrote: “UK digital tech services currently export a much greater value of goods than they import, generating a significant trade surplus of 55% in 2019. This compares favourably to the average trade surplus among the top 57 countries globally, which is 48%. The UK digital tech trade surplus has increased by 68% over the last four years – from £8.7bn in 2015 to £12.8bn in 2019 – and is now just behind the insurance sector (£16.9bn) and financial services (£43.4bn).”

Digital minister Caroline Dinenage said: “The UK is Europe’s tech capital and these figures reinforce our industry’s reputation as a truly global player.

“We are investing heavily in the nation’s digital infrastructure as well as in people’s digital skills, which puts British firms in an unparalleled position to seize new, global opportunities on the horizon.”

The report found that Singapore and Brazil are the fastest-rising global opportunities for trade, climbing five and 17 places, respectively, in the country rankings for global tech opportunity between 2019 and 2020. The report also said opportunities for trade with Asian cities have “sky-rocketed”. The report’s authors urged UK companies to consider Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Mumbai when discussing international trade and expansion.

Trade commissioner Natalie Black said: “Asia Pacific is the growth opportunity for UK tech companies looking to expand overseas.”

Commenting on the report’s findings, Tech Nation chief executive Gerard Grech said: “The UK is a natural home for many scaling tech businesses, and there are a proportionally high number of scaling tech businesses located here that are already well-established in delivering domestic tech services. The UK is also third in the world for the number of UK tech unicorns, and number one in Europe.

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  • Technology has a strong role to play in the UK’s recovery, with Rishi Sunak’s Plan for Jobs offering opportunities for the sector.
  • A consultation has been launched to gather views on how digital approaches can improve trader and traveller demands by 2025.

“These factors give us a strong conviction that UK founders, government and industry leaders should all be gearing up to double tech exports by 2025, in the aftermath of both the pandemic and Brexit. By doubling exports, UK tech could contribute an additional £23bn to the economy per year by 2025 and move up the ranks to become a top global exporter of tech.”

Discussing the opportunity for investment in UK tech firms, Antony Phillipson, British consul general in New York and trade commissioner for North America, said: “US investors accounted for 24% of all investment in UK tech companies in 2019. As we look to exploit future UK/US trade opportunities, growth in this sector is key to keeping our economies competitive in a global context.”

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