Two of contemporary commentators’ more popular mantras are that Britain’s economic future is in our knowledge economy sectors such as the creative industries, and that it is in emerging markets, such as China, where the demand for these lie. There are few things that today’s politicians like doing more than being photographed in Mumbai or Beijing, leading media and technology trade delegations and urging British businesses to seize the commercial opportunities. But many of the creative businesses themselves will tell you another story. For those that have tried to work in the BRICs, it has been more a case of frustration and costs than opportunity and profits, with tales of IP theft, negotiations which last forever and go nowhere, high costs and small fees, and insurmountable differences in business practice.
It isn’t just that emerging markets are difficult to do business in. They’re also not very big. After all, when it comes to the creative industries, even the likes of China are still lightweights. The UK’s total exports of creative goods to China were $158 million dollars in 2011 – just 2% of what we export to the rest of Europe. Even if we achieved an unrealistic growth rate of 10% per year, it would take until 2070 for exports to China to overtake the current figures for the EU. For a British government looking for ‘export-led growth’ and wanting to add $100 million to our overseas creative earnings, they could either try to increase exports to China by 63%… or our exports to Europe by 1%. It’s clear which is the more attainable goal. After all, in contrast to China, Europe has strong protection for Intellectual Property, contracts that can be enforced, a shared business culture, and is cheap and easy to get to.
But which gets the most attention from the UK government? DCMS’s blog reports on trade missions to China, a UK-China summit in Stratford-Upon-Avon and a £100 million marketing campaign. Mentions of Europe, in as much as they feature at all, include a blog on whether the European Union is a “Help, or hindrance?” Our creative businesses are being ill-served in more ways than this, for the European Union is not only our largest market, it is also one of the few credible organisations shaping international policy frameworks for the sector. Intellectual Property Rights are taken seriously and are often surprisingly progressive, while the European Commission’s Open Data initiatives demonstrate a genuine commitment to culture, technology and business growth.
For creative businesses, these are more than just abstract policy debates – they are critical to the future of these industries. What’s more, through the European Commission there are major support and innovation funds that can help businesses to benefit in these fast-changing sectors. The recently launched Horizon 2020 innovation funding is a major opportunity for the UK’s creative industries and historically we have done well at securing these funds. By reshaping them to play to our strengths, such as in creative content, we could do even better.
Of course, the EU is far from perfect. Agriculture expenditure may have come down from being more than the 70% it was in the 1980s to make up 30% of current EC expenditure, but this is still too high and a perverse reflection of Europe’s economic profile. Similarly, the bureaucracy associated with funding and policy has been significantly streamlined in recent years, but still remains daunting to the uninitiated. Yet none of this should hold back the UK’s business and political leaders, and with the launch last year of Creative Europe, the European Commission has negotiated a significant budget increase for creative sector support.
Europe might lack the glamour of the BRICs, but it remains our biggest market opportunity and any forthcoming government serious about growing the creative industries should make it a priority. The following would all help:
- Promote Europe as the major market opportunity for creative industries – producing focused trade missions targeting markets within the Union and outside. This should particularly include accession states such as Poland that are growing rapidly and have a strong demand for UK cultural products.
- Install a creative champion for the UK in Brussels. This will help fill the gaps in coverage of the UKTI’s Prime Ministerial Trade Envoys, which seem to cover everywhere but Europe. Their job will be to promote the UK creative industries and shape the EC innovation funds and regulations that support them.
- We should instigate a Churchill Memorial Foundation-style travelling fellowship grant to help UK policymakers get the most from the latest European thinking, and inform the debates that will shape the long-term future of the sector.
Callum Lee is Deputy Director of the European Creative Business Network, based in Rotterdam