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Hewitt urges skills development to gain from EU enlargement

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With just over 500 days to go until 10 new countries join the EU, the Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt told British manufacturers at a meeting of RDAs that there is "nothing to fear if they "get ready now".

"We all recognise the challenges of the global economy but we mustn't allow a consensus to develop that enlargement will only mean an exodus of British jobs to Eastern Europe.

"We can never compete on cost alone. We wouldn't want to either: our vision is to have cutting edge, highly paid jobs for working people, not a culture of cost cutting, low pay or long hours. Sweatshops have no place in the British economy. Enlargement simply reinforces the need, identified in our manufacturing strategy, for British business to move up the value chain.

"We can compete for jobs only by playing to our strengths. Companies who fail to develop their products through investment and innovation, or those who fail to develop the skills of their workforce will lose out. But those who act now will be the ones who reap the rewards."

"There are already around 14,000 UK firms exporting to Eastern and Central Europe; over 90% of our exports to the 10 accession countries are manufactured goods. Three quarters of these are small and medium sized businesses.

Each previous enlargement has seen a surge of exports from British companies. Within a few years of them joining, the value of UK exports to Spain increased by 23% in 1986; to Sweden in 1995 also by 23%; and to Finland in 1995 by 31%. Economists suggest that Britain's prosperity will receive a #1.75 billion boost around a year from enlargement.

The 10 countries set join the EU on 1 May 2004 are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

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