To say we are living in unusual times is an understatement. COVID-19 continues to impact almost every part of our lives, in every corner of the world.
In Asia Pacific, we were amongst the first to have to adapt to the global health and economic crisis. And I am optimistic that it is here, we will see inspiring innovations and new ways of working that will propel this region’s economic recovery in the future.
Like most businesses and organisations, staff at the Department for International Trade (DIT) are working remotely and observing social distancing. And from our new team structures and working patterns, we are focused on managing the immediate economic fallout from COVID-19 and supporting the crisis response in many embassies and High Commissions across the region, helping UK nationals to return home.
Despite the uncertainty we all face, I want to reassure British businesses and investors based in Asia Pacific that DIT colleagues are here to support you in the coming weeks and months. We want to keep trade flowing as much as possible. Although we cannot meet face to face at the moment, we are working closely with a range of partners, from Ministries of Trade and British Chambers in the region, to Invest Northern Ireland and Scottish Development International.
Given the pace at which the situation is developing, we recognise that many businesses across the region will face disruption. We are here to provide support, so please do get in touch: DIT.APAC@fco.gov.uk
In the UK, the Prime Minister has said that the Government will do whatever it takes to win the fight against the pandemic. He has asked people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary and non-essential shops and community spaces are now closed.
The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced an unprecedented package of government-backed and guaranteed loans to support businesses, making available an initial £330bn of guarantees – equivalent to 15% of GDP. That support will be delivered through two main schemes:
- Support for liquidity amongst large firms, with a major new scheme being launched by the Bank of England to help them bridge COVID-19 disruption to their cash flows through loans.
- Increasing the amount businesses can borrow through the COVID-19 Business Interruption Loan Scheme from £1.2m to £5m and ensuring businesses can access the first 6 months of that finance interest free, as the Government will cover the first 6 months of interest payments.
In England, £20bn of direct fiscal support for businesses through tax relief and cash grants to help business manage cash flow has been promised. This includes:
- Cash grants of up to £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000.
- Cash grants of £10,000 for small businesses eligible for business rate relief and rural rate relief.
- Entirely removing all eligible properties in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector from business rates, so that no pub, hotel, or high street shop will pay business rates for 12 months.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive at least £3.5bn of support for businesses in their administrations.
UK Export Finance (UKEF) can also provide additional measures to exporters in the region. They will help ease cash flow constraints by guaranteeing bank loans through the Export Working Capital Scheme and support finance for overseas buyers through the Direct Lending Facility scheme, so they can continue to buy your goods and services. They also offer an export insurance policy that can help you recover the costs of fulfilling an order that is terminated by events outside your control.
The UK Government has launched further online guidance on gov.uk on how DIT can support businesses impacted by COVID-19.
We want to help you reduce the impact that COVID-19 could have on your business and your people – both in the short and long term. It is therefore crucial that we maintain open and regular communication between DIT and the business community working in Asia Pacific.
Trade and investment will be critical to the global economic recovery from COVID-19, and we stand ready to get you back to business as usual, as quickly as possible.
Natalie Black is Her Majesty's Trade Commissioner for Asia Pacific. She oversees all Department for International Trade (DIT) work in North-East Asia, South-East Asia and Australasia including growing the overall bilateral trade and investment relationship; improving market access for British companies, including small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs); and developing finance and trade policy. She also works closely with the wider diplomatic network and UK-based colleagues to coordinate Her Majesty's Government (HMG) activity on UK's wider prosperity agenda.
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