Ministerial Trade Board minutes: March 2017

Minutes of the meeting of the Ministerial Trade Board held on 29 March 2017.

Attendees and apologies


  • Keith Brown MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work


  • Rachel Jones
  • Linda Steedman
  • Michelle Crossan-Matos
  • Afzal Khushi
  • Jane Richardson
  • Nora Senior
  • Eric Balish
  • James Withers
  • Russell Dalgleish (using dial-in facility)


  • Ian Donnelly

From Scottish Government

  • George Burgess
  • Simon Forrest
  • Suzanne Henderson
  • Jamie McGarvey

From Scottish Development International

  • Neil Francis

Items and actions

1. Welcome and introductions

1.1 Mr Brown welcomed everyone to the first meeting of the Trade Board and thanked them for agreeing to be members. Members were invited to introduce themselves.

1.2 Mr Brown set out the reasons why the Trade Board had been formed and gave his thoughts as to how it would function whilst acknowledging that the precise remit would be discussed later in the meeting. Mr Brown gave some examples of areas where the Board might provide advice. These included:

  • how we raise the ambition of businesses, particularly SMEs, to export
  • identifying global market opportunities and how we can better support business to exploit them
  • how the public, private and academic sectors can work better together to create the right environment for businesses to internationalise and export
  • how we can raise Scotland’s global profile and use our networks and relationships to do that

2. Update on key issues

2.1 Background papers were distributed to members in advance of the meeting, providing:

  • update on:
    • Brexit and independence referendum
    • Enterprise and Skills Review
    • Progress towards Trade & Investment Strategy and 4 point plan actions
  • Global Scotland: Scotland’s Trade & Investment Strategy 2016-2021

2.2 Mr Brown asked for any observations or comment on these papers. No comments were received.

3. Trade Board – Role and Remit

3.1 Prior to the meeting, members were provided with a paper outlining the proposed role and remit of the Trade Board. Mr Brown noted that, although he considered the remit to be broad in scope, he was happy to hear members comments and suggestions for amendments. The Board agreed that, given its importance to the fulfilment of orders and the costs of producing goods for export, the remit would be amended to include reference to imports.

Action: Secretariat to amend the remit to include reference to imports and the revised paper circulated to members for agreement.

4. Reflections and discussion on exporting in the current economic climate

4.1. Mr Brown invited members to share their own experiences of exporting and to broadly explore the challenges, opportunities, sector differences, as well as members’ experiences of public sector business support services. Mr Brown also sought members’ views on the impact (both current and potential) of Brexit.

4.2 The following topics were raised in discussion:

  • Some sectors, for example food and drink, continue to perform strongly in exporting, although the outcome of Brexit negotiations will have an impact.
  • The Scotch Whisky Association was quoted as a good example of a strong industry association which has played a major role in the success of the sector. It has a mentoring programme – could this be copied in other sectors?
  • The role of ‘Brand Scotland’ in supporting exporting in particular countries and how that needs to be tailored according to different priority markets. It was noted that not all sectors benefit from or need a Scottish identity attached to their product or service
  • The need to address the fear of exporting among some companies and the role that business-to-business support and mentoring can play. Leadership skills also play a crucial role.
  • The importance of developing tailored support according to business objectives, capacity and market opportunities.
  • The difficulties (and costs) businesses can face in sourcing sufficiently detailed export market knowledge and the role universities can play in providing that intelligence and expertise to companies. This is currently underutilised and more could be done to raise awareness of the services and particularly the talent that universities can provide.
  • General concern and uncertainty around the implications and impact of Brexit.

5. Potential areas for further public / private sector action and next steps.

5.1 Mr Brown asked members for their views on areas where further action might be required to achieve the objectives of Scotland’s Trade & Investment Strategy. He also invited members to Identify geographic or sector opportunities for Scottish businesses and to highlight any gaps in business support services for exporting.

5.2 The Board noted the following:

  • Prioritisation – aspiration needs to be aligned with resources. There is more scope to identify what markets and countries (and cities/regions eg in China) have most potential for Scotland or are most interested in trading with Scotland and what sectors overlap with each other in these markets. Support to be targeted accordingly.

[The Cabinet Secretary apologised as Parliamentary business required him to leave the meeting and the Chair passed to George Burgess.]

  • Harnessing the market intelligence capability of banks and universities – identify ways to make access to market intelligence easier and more affordable for SMEs. Employing university graduates or post grads could offer a solution but costs could be a deterrent. Could there be a mechanism to partially offset or subsidise these costs?
  • The need for much greater language proficiency in business will be made even greater by Brexit as we currently do not produce language graduates who also have technical subject expertise.
  • The importance of scale - companies could benefit from forming partnerships with other businesses, particularly when accessing larger markets. Again, resources might be prioritised for those companies capable of scaling up and exporting. It was acknowledged that exporting may not be right or possible for every business.
  • Greater clarity for businesses on where to access information and support – the landscape can be very confusing. The Scottish Government’s Enterprise & Skills Review is currently looking at how support for internationalisation can be more effective and better joined up.

6. AOB

6.1 No other business was raised.  

7. Next meeting

7.1 The Chair indicated that the Secretariat would seek a suitable date for the next meeting in early summer and invited members to suggest matters they would like to discuss at the next meeting.

Action: Secretariat to correspond with Board members to agree a suitable date in summer and to produce agenda for next meeting incorporating any topics suggested by members.

Secretariat to include an update on the proposals for local / regional export partnerships for the next meeting.



J. McGarvey
Directorate for International Trade and Investment
Scottish Government
Atlantic Quay
150 Broomielaw
Glasgow G2 8LU

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