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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » October 26, 2012
Britain in Poland
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From Humble Beginnings to Strong Performance
October 26, 2012   
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Martin Oxley, Director, UK Trade & Investment, British Embassy in Warsaw, talks to Ewa Hancock.

What is Britain doing to further develop its trading relations with Poland and the region as a whole?
Poland is the biggest market in what we call “emerging Europe”—the Central and Eastern European markets which have joined the European Union over the last 10 years and offer significant long-term growth potential for UK companies. So it’s vital we do more than ever to promote and access opportunities for UK businesses. Poland also happens to be the sixth largest market in Europe. From humble beginnings just over 20 years ago, who would have projected such a strong performance? There’s more to come—as despite an outstanding growth profile there is still a long way to go until Poland matches its established European peers. Even if we see a slowdown over the next couple of years, Poland and the broader region offer solid, sustainable strategic growth opportunity. We have all the makings of a great relationship which needs to blossom—both in Poland and in the emerging Europe region as a whole.

How would you assess the progress made so far?
The short answer is not well enough. The relationship is strategic. The UK is Poland’s second largest global trading partner. Bilateral trade last year jumped to just over £14 billion—total goods and services combined. Yet the UK only represents a low single-digit percentage of Poland’s total import partners. If you look at the overall profile of British business in Poland, it tends to be big-ticket companies—Tesco, GSK, BP and Provident. There are more, yet the British “Mittelstand”—UK mid-size companies who really have a significant amount of potential—are missing. Medium-sized businesses represent less than 1 per cent of companies in the UK but account for 22 per cent of the UK’s total revenue, yet they lag behind the UK average in how much their business depends on exporting. The British embassy’s mission is to attract this significant slice of the British economy over here. There are three opportunities—exports, investment and supply chain. Thus far we haven’t really focused on the latter two.

So what are the opportunities for British companies here?
We see a booming consumer market which is hungry for quality and value—both areas in which the UK is truly world-class. To a certain extent now is the right time to be coming to the market—a consumer market which is well established yet which only now is really focused on depth. For example, whisky from the UK, of renowned quality, is increasing in popularity and exports to Poland have risen, on average, by 15.8 per cent a year since 2008. A country which is modernising—transport and energy infrastructure, utilities and power all bring opportunity. The UK is well poised to engage in such projects. EU funds are a key source of growth for Poland’s modernisation.

What about the future?
The next couple of years will be difficult in Europe. There is no way of escaping that. The markets of Emerging Europe, led by Poland, do however have the potential to lead the growth charge. It is important that the UK appreciates that and builds the necessary foundations here to make the most of what is on offer. Poland is not only an attractive market in its own right it is at the new crossroads of the East-West trade shift. An important location on an emerging axis of growth, which has had a major role in an impressive 62 per cent (£272 billion) increase in goods arriving in the Central European region between 2007 and 2011.
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