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The North East's businesses lead the UK's export market

James Ramsbotham, Chief Executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, explains why North East businesses are leading the UK in terms of opening up foreign markets

There is no secret behind the North East's success opening up foreign markets. The reason is simple; we make things that people want. Paint, packing foam, cars, polymers, cables, chemicals, valves or pies - we make it and we sell it...usually overseas.

Our businesses are leading the UK in terms of opening up foreign markets, exploiting opportunities in new and developing economies and as such, leading the fight back from the economic downturn.

In terms of exports, the North East has the healthiest balance of trade of all UK regions and our companies are exploring new overseas opportunities on a daily basis.

Last year we smashed all export records with more than £13.75bn worth of products sold overseas in the 12 months up to the end of March. These figures are all the more impressive considering they were achieved as the UK struggled to recover from the worst recession in generations and, falling back into recession earlier this year.

The USA is the North East's single largest export market, with more than £2.4bn worth of goods exported there in the last year, but businesses are exporting more to Europe now, opening up new markets in parts of oil-rich Russia, exploring opportunities in South America and Africa and building in the successes of trade links to the Middle and Far East.

There is no doubt the region can achieve more, but in an era when banks are less willing to undertake trade specific credit arrangements there is greater need for more appropriate state support to mirror that available to other countries, such as Germany, Japan, USA.

The bulk of our export success can be attributed to the manufacturing and engineering sectors, with the region's healthy automotive industry centred in Sunderland, offshore sector and process industries playing a leading role.

There have been highly encouraging signs that growth in the service sector is improving. For the first time since the beginning of the recession growth in the sector has begun to outstrip the healthy figures returned by manufacturing companies, according to trends demonstrated by the NECC's Quarterly Economic Survey (QES), the largest business survey in the region.

The QES demonstrates that the first half of 2012 has seen the largest increase in business positivity since 2008. There is also evidence demonstrating a positive link between innovation, research and development and exporting.

The North East has a proud history of producing and nurturing great innovators and pioneers and it's good to see that innovative companies that invest in research and development are more likely to benefit from exporting.

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Ralph Saelzer

Managing Director of Liebherr, Sunderland

German-born Ralph Saelzer joined Liebherr in 2002 and shares overall responsibility for the Sunderland plant with the company's Finance Director, managing production; HR; health and safety; quality; Maintenance and design support.

The company manufactures maritime cranes and cargo handling equipment including ship and port cranes, offshore cranes and mobile harbour cranes.

Liebherr opened in Sunderland in 1989 in the Deptford area of Sunderland, on the banks of the River Wear and employs more than 180 people, many of whom are longstanding employees.

As well as Ralph's day job, he also holds several voluntary posts including member of the Economic Leadership Board Sunderland, Governor of Sunderland College, Regional Councillor of the EEF and within the Church of England.
In recognition of his contribution to the skills agenda in Sunderland, he has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Sunderland.

Ralph is married with three adult children and in his spare time enjoys reading, outdoor activities like cycling and fell walking and is a supporter of Sunderland Association Football Club.

Read more about Ralph Saelzer and Liebherr


Sunderland is open for business, open to business. It offers a remarkable range of opportunities in a city with a growing entrepreneurial spirit.

A city with a strong heritage of making things well, Sunderland has a proven track record of attracting, encouraging and nurturing successful enterprises, from manufacturing to new technologies. Investing in Sunderland is a low risk, high reward opportunity for any business.

Put simply, we believe Sunderland is the easiest place in the UK to do business

Seven North East authorities, with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, are coming together to showcase all that the region has to offer at the UK's premier international business event later this month.
Insider North East is hosting a Breakfast event - Doing Business in Sunderland - which will bring together council leaders, policy makers and some of the leading businesses to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that exist for Sunderland businesses.
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