Prosper took a look around the world and spoke to some of the highly experienced international trade advisors who work closely with our Black Country team helping our regional businesses trade overseas and grow their market share.

Raksha Maharaj – South Africa 

Raksha is the Africa Sector Director for Infrastructure and Mining at the Department for International Trade, she is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

“My title is quite a mouthful,” Raksha told Prosper, “but simply put, it means working together with my colleagues across Africa to identify priority projects in infrastructure and mining, assess potential opportunities and work together with UK companies to access these opportunities.”

A large part of Raksha’s job is demystifying Africa for UK companies and her work as a trade advisor began with the UK government and working with SME’s to find distributors, agents or sales opportunities in Africa.

“My time spent as a trade advisor helped me to understand some of the questions and concerns that companies have when thinking about Africa, which for many, is still an unknown,” she said.

“Africa is, however, one of the most exciting places to do business,” she continued, 

“The continent is home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, a rapidly growing middle-class and a huge range of opportunities for trade and investment. Many markets have a keen appreciation for UK goods which find positive traction and there is also a need for UK skills and expertise for projects in Africa. The infrastructure sector has a huge deficit, resulting in a loss of approximately 2.6% in GDP per year – while this is a challenge, it is also an opportunity for the UK to provide advisory and expertise in helping develop the sector across Africa. With Africa being rich in natural resources, the mining sector is of vital importance also. 

“As an African, it is important to me that the work I do in creating and furthering these commercial opportunities benefits Africa also. New infrastructure projects and new investments in the mining sector mean job creation and economic development, bringing prosperity and helping create a market for more UK trading products. Mutual development and prosperity benefit us all.

“While my job has now changed from creating trading opportunities to helping UK companies win large infrastructure and mining contracts, the key component that remains is the ability to engage with the UK client – to understand their goals and objectives, acknowledge their concerns and provide them with potential solutions. 

“And I find that whether it’s seeing UK products on local supermarket shelves or being involved in a big rail construction project, the satisfaction of having helped a UK company achieve their goals is the same.”

Tuan Thieu - Vietnam

Tuan, known as Toby, is a Trade Service Executive at BritCham Vietnam, where he has worked for the last two years taking charge of Renewable Energy, Technology, Professional Services, Water, Environment, and Chemical sectors.

Vietnam is forecast to have the highest GDP growth rate among Southeast Asian countries in 2020 – 4.1%, partly attributed to the government’s reaction to the Covid-19 crisis. 

“For many years now Vietnam has always proved its ‘charm’ for international investors thanks to the strategic location, ease of doing business, substantial human resources, supply chain and buoyant economy,” Toby told Prosper, “I am always grateful for the fact that I am based in Ho Chi Minh City – the most dynamic city in Vietnam.

“In response to Covid-19, the Trade Service Team of BritCham Vietnam didn’t waste any time, we immediately held discussions to introduce new service options to best support UK companies in the ‘new normal’.

“In terms of our established services, whilst the market research service has thankfully stayed intact, we are now offering an online option for event organisation and OMIS (Overseas Market Introduction Service), allowing UK companies to meet potential partners in Vietnam via digital platforms and saving them from planning trips out here in these uncertain times.

“Nevertheless, thanks to the willingness of Vietnamese companies, The Energy Catalyst Round 8 in Vietnam, in collaboration with London Chamber of Commerce & Industry, is a spectacular example of how well this adaptation works. 

“The travel suspension did not prevent us from introducing many UK companies to the potential renewable energy market in Vietnam. This mission helped establish many promising partnerships between UK energy companies and potential partners in Vietnam.”

Meanwhile, BritCham, Vietnam’s Business Service portfolio, has now extended to include new services; Inward Investment Facilitation (IIF) and Back-office Services.

IIF provides UK companies with support in terms of business registration, site selection, factory/office set-up & operations support, HR & Financial Management, whilst Back-Office Services supports activities such as due diligence, marketing materials, company documents, translation services and Vietnam entry services.  

“Lastly our Business Development Representative (BDR) is a service that we introduced just over a year ago,” continued Toby.

“This service allows BritCham Vietnam to follow up with our client’s established local contacts to discuss business further or to help close deals, support with marketing activities and communication.

“Looking ahead,” Toby concluded, “I am highly positive about Vietnam’s economic outlook in the short and long-term future. BritCham Vietnam Team will continuously adapt to provide the most practical and suitable support aiming to promote strong business links between Vietnam and the UK.”

Paul Taylor - France

As France, like the UK, gradually returns to normality following a three-month lockdown and slump in economic activity that will see the economy contracting by around ten per cent this year - is now a good time for Midlands’ companies to target the market for export growth? 

Prosper asked Paul Taylor, Chief Operating Officer for DIT France for his thoughts.  

“The answer is that there are plenty of good reasons to focus on a market that has historically delivered for UK businesses and was still our third biggest export market globally in 2019,” said Paul, “The French State is pumping hundreds of billions of Euros into the economy to kick-start growth – with a particular focus on strategic industries like aerospace and automotive. 

“Retail sales showed an encouraging bounce back from May, with spending nearing pre-confinement levels, continued Paul,  “DIT France has also expanded and substantially widened its scope: and is better placed than at any point in recent years to support exporters. There will undoubtedly be bumps in the road ahead, but it makes sense to reach out now and to plan ahead.”

To help companies to prepare for the coming months, the DIT France team is launching a couple of important new initiatives. Café Connect is a programme of short, one-to-one consultations with their export advisors, to be delivered in late July and continued in September. The team will also release a first monthly news and opportunities update in July aimed at International Trade Advisors and their clients. 

“The aim is to be much more proactive in communicating developments in France,” Paul said, “That should be of interest to business; to help to orientate and prepare companies to take advantage of them. This includes better advance notice of activities and events that the France team deliver in key sectors, including an ambitious webinar programme over the coming months.”

Sectors like food & drink, energy (both renewables and nuclear), consumer goods, defence & security and construction have proven to be winners over recent years. 

“On food & drink,” Paul continued, “we have helped a large number of SMEs to get products including biscuits, breakfast cereals, crisps, health drinks, confectionery and chocolate on to supermarket shelves, using trade fair visits and one-to-one support over time to identify import partners and distributors. In the energy sector, we have been working to connect UK SMEs with French clients and partners and to increase awareness of tender opportunities.  

“We have also provided support with technical or linguistic issues around written bids for work and contracts. Over the past few months, we have reinforced our team to provide better coverage of advanced manufacturing, especially in the area of transport; and of technology across the board: from smart cities to EdTech, FinTech and Agri-tech. France aspires to be a technology leader in Europe and is investing heavily in areas like cybersecurity and AI.”

There is an increasingly-important environmental angle to policy – with industrial stimulus packages prioritising and emphasising green growth (where the UK has much to offer). While Covid-19 has also emphasised the importance of France’s traditionally strong health and life sciences industries; and of opportunities to supply public and private healthcare. 

Looking further ahead, France’s hosting of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be another important focus for DIT France over the next 4 years and should open a wide range of business opportunities for the UK. 

“We have already helped to deliver a number of early successes to UK business via the Paris 2024 tender platform. If your company has experience in servicing international sporting events, then we want to hear from you.  

“Quality of product or service is key and innovation valued. If your product or service is a success in the UK, then there is a good chance it can succeed in France. Carefully packaged and competitively priced products should do well – especially if these respond to growing French interest in sustainability, healthy living and responsible consumption.”

Paul advises that some form of competence or ability in the French language, especially outside Paris and the Ile-de-France, can be a real asset. DIT France can offer guidance and support in all these areas and has regional reach through offices in Bordeaux and Lyon and partnerships with Franco-British business groups across France.  

“The end of the Transition Period, when the UK will leave the EU Single Market and Customs Union on 31 December, should provide another reason to build relationships with our team in France, concluded Paul, “Negotiations are ongoing and we won’t know the outcome for some time yet. But doing business with France will change. It makes sense to join up and to ready ourselves for that eventuality.

“We would love to hear from you and are here to help your business to succeed in France.”

For further information on Café Connect or any of the opportunities mentioned here, please do get in touch with the France Export Growth team at 

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