“When I joined the chamber three years ago, I saw huge potential for growth in Slovenian-UK trade. Then the Brexit referendum happened! After the first shock passed, we reassessed the situation – but realised that actually, the foundations of the trade relationship were very strong”, says Barbara Uranjek, CEO of British-Slovenian Chamber of Commerce. And adds: “So, Brexit didn’t limit our ambitions.”
The British-Slovenian Chamber of Commerce, which was proclaimed the best British Chamber of the year in Europe in 2018, promotes trade and investment between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Slovenia. The partners set a target of €1bn in combined trade and started building commercial ties between the two countries through events, export delegations, branding of the UK market and building our network in the UK and Slovenia. And in 2018, the target was reached: for the first time in history, UK-SLO trade in goods exceeded €1bn, while total trade, including services, is now €1,495bn. Slovenian exports grew 11% in 2018, compared to the year before, and UK exports to Slovenia grew by 14%. “Through our services, which include helping companies establish offices in UK or Slovenia, search for new partners, organise of events and business delegations, we believe we can continue to keep this trend in growing trade”, says Uranjek.
How this trend occurred?
The UK still represents an attractive market for Slovenian exporters. It’s the 5th largest economy in the world, with a population of 66 million people, where it’s easy to do business and where companies can reach higher margins. Slovene businesses have untapped potential across several product categories where the UK market has provided a thriving destination for exports from smaller countries (beverages and spirits, wood, wooden products, leather goods, gastronomic products, pharmaceuticals, glass and glassware, dairy produce). There are 4461 Slovenian companies importing UK goods and services, and imports from the UK increased by 14% in 2018. UK products are also very popular with Slovenian consumers. There’s strong recognition for British cars, British fashion, British music and film… and the improved exchange rate helps! Our Chamber experienced this in 2018, where we organised the British Month campaign with Mercator in their most premium store, Mercator Šiška. Their sales grew substantially, and some products have become iconic in Slovenia, like gin and tonic.
Where do you see the greatest potential for Slo-UK cooperation in the future?
Cooperation always has to be built on good infrastructure links. The return of British Airways to Ljubljana after 18 years is a good signal for Slovenian tourism and business. Their flights are operating just this summer, with potential for a more frequent route in 2020. The link with London Heathrow, the airport with the highest number of passengers in Europe, provides good transatlantic connections and connections within the UK, to destinations interesting for business, like Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool and many more, which are interesting for trade. British tourism grew by 9% in 2018, as London continues to be the destination with the highest number of passengers for Ljubljana airport. The link with Heathrow airport also opens Slovenia to more 5-star tourism, as it links London with the rest of the UK and provides a good pool of potential higher income tourists, particularly from west London. Our chamber also promotes Slovenia as an investment destination, as it has significant advantages: proficiency in English; good infrastructure; an educated workforce; the highest GDP/capita in CEE; the highest purchasing power in CEE; and a strategic position on intersection of trade links across Europe. UK-owned companies, like GKN Driveline, Titus, RLS have very high labour productivity, compared to the Slovenian average, or even other foreign-owned companies.
How can businesses prepare for 31st October?
It’s hard to predict the exact outcome of Brexit. Obviously, everyone in business agrees that the best option will be to leave with a deal. But I’ve seen first-hand the hard work that the British government, and the Department of International Trade, are putting in to ensure business is ready for any outcome, even hard Brexit, says Uranjek. For example, if the UK leaves without a deal, a simplified tariff procedure will be put in place to ensure a smooth process at the border, and almost 90% of products from the EU will be tariff free. “The British Embassy in Ljubljana and our Chamber will be able to answer questions from business and help with advice in the case of hard Brexit. We will try to make sure that trade continues to be as frictionless as possible”, says our interlocutor. “We suggest that Slovene businesses currently working with the UK, talk to their UK-side distributors and partners to make sure they have read about how to prepare, and registered for the simplified tariffs procedure, on the UK Government website: www.gov.uk/business-uk-leaving-eu .”