The West Midlands is well placed to thrive in new world markets because its people understand how trade works, according to Sir Digby Jones.
Sir Digby, soon to stand down as director-general of the CBI, said the 21st century would be all about Asia.
"We can fight it - like the US and France will - and lose, or engage with it and thrive."
Sir Digby was speaking at the annual business dinner organised by Dudley South MP and Trade Minister Ian Pearson.
The event, at the Copthorne Hotel, Brierley Hill, was supported by Black Country Chamber of Commerce and attended by around 150 business leaders.
Sir Digby said: "The West Midlands has a worldwide reputation for trading and liberalised economics. We are globally engaged. The people of the UK actually understand how trade works. Don't forget that per capita we are the biggest traders on earth."
He said the growth of the Indian and Chinese economies meant Britain had to identify new areas to compete.
And he told delegates: "We are moving from traditional commodities to value-added, innovation and brand. Your responsibility as business leaders is to equip and skill your people for the jobs of the future."
The UK still had manufacturing success stories including Airbus, BMW, Nissan and Toyota, as well as booming sectors like pharmaceuticals, financial services, creative industries and academia.
Britain had to face the fact that some companies could not survive. "MG Rover, for instance, was a basket case. I begged the Prime Minister not to put any more money into it. We had to let it go and make sure that the people who lost their jobs could be reskilled to face the future. And that is happening."
He urged the Government to let the private sector get on with what it did best - generating wealth. "If it wasn't for the profits business makes, there would be no tax for schools, hospitals, police officers and prisons.
"Politicians must create an environment where we can get on with doing the business."
Mr Pearson said he believed the Black Country was up to the challenge of the changing world. "There is no doubt that we understand globalisation. For generations we have made our living by exporting our talents and skills.
" There are enormous opportunities for two-way trade with India and China. The key is to make sure you buy them before they buy you."
He also highlighted growth in the Middle East, where more than £600 billion would be spent on infrastructure over the next ten to 15 years.
"They are very keen to do business with us, but we need to get out there and see the opportunities there are."
Sir Digby presented a badge of office to the Chamber's immediate past president Mike Holder, in recognition of his long service to the Black Country business community.