International trade has taken a bit of beating in recent months, thanks to the combined forces of Brexit and COVID-19. The two colliding factors have placed significant pressure on those businesses which rely heavily on goods journeying to and from the EU, and beyond. As a result, export figures tumbled at the beginning of 2021, following the end of the transition period, with UK exports to the EU falling by 40.7% in January, while imports dropped 28.8 %. They were the largest declines since comparable records began in 1997.

While supply chain issues continued to rumble on last year, the export figures have rebounded, with the latest research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing that imports and exports of goods increased in the three months to November 2021 compared with the three months to November 2020. The Government also made a clear statement during International Trade and Investment Week, which was based around the robust theme of ‘Made in the UK, Sold to the World'.

As the export landscape begins to settle, and businesses become more accustomed to the demands of a post-EU world, the question that remains is how businesses can innovate and strengthen their own proposition when it comes to exporting globally.

The answer can often be found by looking closer to home before turning to the wider world. After all, many UK regions have a rich and unique heritage, both in terms of skills and legacy, that can provide the impetus and inspiration when it comes to exporting.

The Midlands is a case in point. It has a rich history in sectors including engineering, automotive and aerospace, and has a wealth of talent in these areas as a result. On the back of a strong heritage and associated skills, the region has collaborated to develop a regional and sector-led powerhouse - The Midlands Engine.

The partnership brings together public sector partners and businesses to complement the activity of local and combined authorities, local enterprise partnerships, universities, and others. The aim is to "bring a collective voice from our region, adding value as an influencer, an advocate, a catalyst for change and an enabler of accelerated delivery".

Part of its approach is the Midlands Engine Global, which recognises that the region is home to some of the world's most successful companies, driving trade and exports, while possessing the pioneering spirit of innovation and industry to help put the Midlands at the forefront of a new ‘Global Britain'. The partnership is bedded in the philosophy that by increasing inward investment and exports, it will help to close the productivity gap and grow economic prosperity.

The job of creating global brand recognition can clearly be achieved by working together, with regions collectively positioning themselves as key exporters. However, collaboration and export success can also be found further afield.

It's clear that if we are going to achieve the UK's overall export targets of £1 trillion by the end of 2030, and properly build international trade, then businesses need to play to their collective strengths and find innovative ways of working together, both regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Tom Horton is an investor at BGF. In the last 10 years, BGF has invested £3bn in over 460 companies. Of that funding, £118m has been invested where international growth was a primary reason for funding, with 94 ​portfolio companies operating outside the UK & Ireland. In the first half of 2020, the value of total exports under the BGF portfolio was £600m.