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As we hurtle towards Brexit, the creative industries have come out strongly in favour of remaining in the Union. The evidence supports them.


A frequent mantra of commentators is that Britain’s economic future is in emerging markets, such as Brazil, where there is growing demand and huge potential talent. But are we being distracted by the potential of these markets and overlooking huge opportunities closer to home?


Even the likes of China (where we have an office) are still relatively small trading partners for us. The UK’s total exports of creative goods to China were $233 million dollars in 2012 – just 3% of what we export to the rest of Europe (EU-27). Even if we achieved an unrealistic growth rate of 10% per year, it would take until 2048 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 50%… or our exports to Europe by 2%. It’s clear which is the more attainable goal. And, in its favour, Europe has strong protection for Intellectual Property, a shared business culture, and is cheap and easy to get to.


Many creative businesses themselves will tell you how hard emerging markets are to reach. For those that have tried to work in the BRICs, it is often a case of frustration and costs than opportunity and profits, with tales of IP conflict, negotiations which last forever and go nowhere, high costs and small fees, and challenging differences in business practice.


The European Union is 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. The proposed Audiovisual Media Services Directive should help to support a vibrant local market for audiovisual content. For creative businesses, these are more than just abstract policy debates – they are critical to the future of these industries.


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 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.


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A previous version of this article featured on the Creative Economy 2015 blog.

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Callum Lee

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Callum leads the BOP team, its portfolio and strategic partnerships. His cultural and creative industries expertise is founded on leading analytical research and policy formulation in the UK and internationally.

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