By Bob Northgate
Last month UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) announced new funding rules governing the Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) that assists small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to take part in certain overseas trade fairs.
Gareth Thomas, Minister for Trade and Investment, said:
“Small and medium-sized enterprises are the lifeblood of any economy. In difficult times, businesses need to be flexible and innovative and seek out opportunities where they exist. I’m delighted that UK Trade & Investment is backing SMEs by allowing them to explore more markets abroad.”
The Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) supports over 3,000 UK businesses each year.
SMEs can apply for grants of £1,000, £1,400 and £1,800 to exhibit at any of the 400 eligible overseas trade fairs each year. These include events such as the “Frames” film, music and television trade show in Mumbai; “Nanotech” in Tokyo; and “The Big 5” construction show in Dubai.
Under current rules, SMEs have been able to apply for a maximum of three TAP grants to participate in trade fairs in their company’s lifetime. The rule change doubles this to a maximum of six grants, with the proviso that the company takes part in trade shows in more than one market.
Grants are aimed at SMEs that are relatively inexperienced exporters and the definition of ‘new to export’ is being revised to broaden the offer of support.
Gareth Thomas added:
“Small businesses can find it hard to break into new markets on their own, but UKTI is there to help as their springboard for global growth. These new rules give SMEs more opportunities to access foreign markets and enable them to attend follow-up trade fairs in markets where they see potential for their business.”
The new rule will come into force on 1 April 2009. There is good news for businesses that have already benefited from this programme, as from this date, the clock will be reset, and previous grants will not be taken into account.
And until then, any business that has used up its three grants by 31 March 2008 can apply for one extra grant to attend any event in the programme.
The TAP programme has been the subject of much debate between industry bodies and UKTI over recent years. Treasury cut-backs have reduced the programme from over £20m a year to just £8m in the current financial year, and restrictions such as the “three times rule” referred to in the announcement have caused problems for fair organisers and sponsoring organisations.
The “new to export” focus, and the Treasury-required concentration on emerging markets such as India, China and Russia at the expense of supporting exporters into more traditional export markets in western Europe, North America and the Commonwealth, has disappointed many private sector business organisations which support and encourage exporters.
Mike Josypenko, incoming chairman of Sponsors’ Alliance which represents Accredited Trade Organisations (ATOs) which arrange UK participation in 400 overseas trade fairs a year, said “We welcome any move which increases UK SME’s accessibility to government export support, and this move goes some way to correcting the excessively restrictive conditions which were previously in force.
[i]”We are, however disappointed that Ministers have not moved to increase the budget for this and other export business schemes. At a time of severe economic and financial crisis, when hundreds of billions of pounds have been invested to support the UK’s banking sector, a budget of £8.5 million for a major SME export programme is inadequate. We call on the Government to increase the overall budget for this scheme, and to increase levels of individual grants, in order to stimulate the country’s SME community into a major campaign of export activity.”
If you want to find out more attend Fear of Flying — An Introduction to International Trade