The Government must make foreign language lessons compulsory for children aged seven to 16 in order to boost British exports, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) says.

The business lobby group’s director general John Longworth believes that helping firms in the powerhouse service sector to export more could help eliminate Britain’s trade gap.

However, to do that, Britain needs workers with stronger language skills, along with banks willing to provide service sector businesses with the working capital they need to become exporters. He also believes that the Government and Europe need to cut red tape.

“We need a culture change in the UK when it comes to international trade. This means more investment, stronger language skills and a global mindset instilled in people from a much younger age,” Longworth said.

He also called on the Government to put more money into Britain’s overseas business networks to help companies trade internationally.

“There is no reason why we shouldn’t be matching the level of export support provided by our major international competitors, like Germany, which spends 10 times more on its bilateral Chamber Network than the UK,” he said.

According to the BCC’s latest international trade survey, 18 per cent of companies in the service sector are on the verge of exporting.

We need to encourage young people to gain experience in international trade, by offering them a range of vocational subjects, such as foreign languages

It also found 23 per cent of firms in the sector were already exporting, just one per cent higher than last year.

Almost a third of service sector exporters said excessive regulation was the largest barrier to trading internationally, prompting the BCC to call for a reduction in red tape, including the completion of the EU Single Market in services.

Over a quarter of respondents said language and cultural differences were an obstacle. The BCC believes foreign language learning in UK schools should be made compulsory “to help entrepreneurs become more globally minded”.

Longworth said: “We need to encourage young people to gain experience in international trade, by offering them a range of vocational subjects, such as foreign languages.”

The BCC also said that service sector firms should look beyond Britain’s traditional export markets. While Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas remained the largest target markets for service sector exporters, it said that Africa has been identified by the International Monetary Fund as being one of the best economic growth prospects, with an increased demand for services in countries such as Nigeria.

 

The Daily Express (August 2014)