'Pakistan has a staggering population of 180 million people – 100 million of these have mobile phones. This is around three times the UK’s population. The middle class is growing, and is attractive to UK businesses, like, Debenhams, which just opened up shop in Pakistan last year.
As part of my internship at the BCC, I recently completed a one week work placement at International Alert – an international peace-building NGO that operates in countries prone to conflict, some of which are among the high-growth markets listed on Export Britain.
I’ve always liked business, and have been positive and optimistic about its contribution to international development. It’s clear the two go hand in hand as it’s impossible to work towards long-term solutions to global challenges without business on side. Through the week, it was clear that the business and development worlds still haven’t quite joined up – as I gathered the general consensus was that businesses are still more reactive to problems that arise in conflict afflicted regions that they operate in.
For the week, I was given the task to research UK companies that trade with Pakistan. The results were interesting and gave rise to a number of questions, mainly around uncertainty in the business environment. This is hard to deal especially in business where it’s important to reduce risk. But, Cameron’s government is committed to increasing trade between Pakistan and the UK - so what is the incentive to expand into new markets?
Pakistan has a staggering population of 180 million people – 100 million of these have mobile phones. This is around three times the UK’s population. The middle class is growing, and is attractive to UK businesses, like, Debenhams, which just opened up shop in Pakistan last year. Growing up in Australia – where the population is only 22 million really puts things in perspective. For a business, I understand that there needs to be demand for the good product/service you are selling, but making profits is also a numbers game, which is what these high growth markets can offer. On the practical side, to export to Pakistan a UK business will need 8 documents, it will cost £423 and it will take 18 days to get your product to the market (World Bank Trading Across Borders 2013).
So I guess what I have learnt is that it’s an extremely risky decision going into an emerging market, especially ones that are prone to conflict – however this should always be considered carefully as the potential for success is huge. Organisations like International Alert, are not only seeking to reduce violent conflicts but are also helping to make the external environment more stable for business and build capacity at government levels. Then there is the BCC, where we are also working to reduce uncertainty and risk for UK exporters by strengthening ties with overseas British Chambers and business groups. Personally, I think there is no better time for a UK business to - at the least - consider exporting to new markets.
Ria Bairstow works in the International Trade Team at the British Chambers of Commerce.