By Daniel Hunter

In a speech to the CBI Annual Conference today (Monday), the CBI President, Sir Roger Carr, will say that UK businesses must claim their share of global trading opportunities, but not forget that Europe accounts for half of British exports.

Setting out the CBI’s priorities, Sir Roger will highlight four key areas which businesses and politicians should focus on as drivers of sustainable growth. They are: export performance, Europe, industrial strategy and business reputation.

On export performance, Sir Roger will say that firms must get out of their comfort zone and into emerging markets to secure fresh opportunities:

“We must all, business and government, redouble our focus on our export performance, and get after those opportunities that are outside our traditional comfort zone. Not just China and India, but Turkey, Indonesia, Vietnam, Russia, and of course South America.

“This is a race where there is no winning post, only marker posts, where at each stage, victory must spur us on to greater efforts in cost-reduction, product innovation, and market penetration.

“There’s a world of opportunity out there, and we must get our share if we are to return to prosperity at home.”

On Europe, Sir Roger will stress its importance to UK trade:

“Whilst looking for new partners, we must not forget old friends. Europe, however challenged, remains home for half our exports.

“It’s like many relationships — can’t live with you, can’t live without you — but somehow the partnership survives.

“Whatever the popular appeal may be of withdrawal, businessmen and politicians must keep a bridge firmly in place.

“As countries of Europe bind together in pursuit of salvation — we in the UK must work harder to avoid the risks of isolation.

“Europe is the bedrock of our international trade. It should be viewed as the launch-pad from which our global trade can expand — not the landmass from which we retreat.

“And if we are to avoid an exit vote in any referendum — it is essential that the voice of British business is loud and clear — in extolling the virtues of future engagement — not as a reluctant participant — but as the lynchpin of our wider global trade ambitions.

“Therefore — politicians must engage, corners must be fought, battles must be won — but the cold business logic of partnership for self interest must be argued and prevail.”

On the need for a UK industrial strategy, Sir Roger will urge the Government to focus on delivery:

“Our success in the world will be driven by the strength of an identified industrial strategy at home. A strategy that doesn’t pick winners but supports sectors, an economy that welcomes all comers but looks after our own.

“This year we have seen encouraging progress in the evolution of a plan. Business doesn’t need fresh initiatives — it requires existing plans to be converted into good deeds, in infrastructure, Local Enterprise Partnerships, energy and outsourcing.

“It wants consistency — not policy on the hoof — it wants clarity — not interdepartmental interpretations — it wants certainty — through policy and cross party agreement at the highest levels — and most of all it wants delivery — efficient execution of promises made — to promises kept.

“Only then will confidence return for investors to make long-term commitments in an uncertain world.”

On business reputation, Sir Roger will say that businesses must act as role models:

“We must demonstrate that we are a generation that is focussed not just on how much money we make, but how we make money; we must salvage the reputation of business.

“As businesses and individuals, standards have been variable, greed prevalent and fairness forgotten in a number of sectors — banking and media at the forefront, but others from all walks of life showing signs of bad behaviour.

“It has given commentators a licence to tar all with the same brush — and to poison the minds of many as to the values — and value — of business in society.

“But lessons have been learned, banking boards and practices have been refreshed, media moguls chastised and executive greed contained — all by a mixture of regulation, legislation, stewardship and boardroom discipline. The direction of travel is positive — there remains more to do.

“Nevertheless — we must stop saying leaders don’t care when they do — all energy companies rip you off — when they don’t — all bankers are despicable, when they are not — or all big business is bad business when it isn’t.”

In addition, Sir Roger will reiterate the CBI’s support for the Government’s deficit reduction strategy, saying:

“The CBI’s message to the Chancellor has been equally resolute — keep prescribing the medicine, but resist increasing the dosage — the patient is fragile — accept a longer convalescence — it is infinitely preferable to the risk of sudden relapse from a heavy overdose. However well intentioned — the doctor must be patient.”

And assessing business and economic conditions, Sir Roger will say:

“Confidence remains in short supply. Whatever the domestic achievements, the risks of a seismic shift in economic conditions from an unstable European continent continue to rein back optimism and investment enthusiasm in many boardrooms.

“When most around us are slipping backwards, forward momentum, however small, is still welcome progress. And it is on these foundations that we now must jointly commit — politicians and business leaders — to accelerating the pace of our sustainable growth programme.”

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