The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has called for Government to focus on boosting services, advanced manufacturing, green and digital trade if it wants to hit its £1tn trade target.
The move comes as research shows SME exports in the UK continue to languish:
- In Q2 of 2023, half of all SME exporters (50%) saw no change in overseas sales, and almost a quarter (24%) reported a decrease
- Just over a quarter of exporting SME firms (26%) saw their overseas sales increase in Q2
- SME manufacturers fared slightly better as 30% saw an increase, with the services sector at 23%
- The last time more than 30% of firms saw increased export sales was in Q4 2018
In Wales, the data paints a similar portrait to the UK’s picture:
- In Q2 of 2023, 44% of SME exporters’ sales, custom and bookings remained constant, while over a quarter (27%) reported a decrease
- Over a quarter of exporting SME firms (29%) saw their overseas sales increase in Q2
- 49% of businesses in Wales stated that their export orders and advanced bookings have remained constant
Boosting exports is key to the UK’s future economic prosperity, but firms of all sizes are facing a wide range of stumbling blocks. These include inflationary pressures, a restructuring of global supply chains and a continuing flow of new requirements from the EU trade relationship.
The BCC’s newly revised Trade Manifesto, supported by logistics company WTA Group, sets out a comprehensive list of steps to get more UK businesses, currently just 10%, involved in international trade.
It builds on other recent research by the BCC that found:
- 54% of businesses say smoother customs procedures are they key to boosting UK exports
- 42% favour lowering tariffs, while 35% said there is a need to reduce regulatory barriers, and 29% want better support for smaller businesses
Among the manifesto’s key proposals are:
- Establishing an Exports Council to focus on boosting the UK’s services, green, life sciences, and advanced manufacturing exports – achieving the £1tn exports target early in 2030s
- Raising the proportion of UK exports done digitally to 60% by end of the decade
- Building upon trade documents digitalisation by moving to online border processes at pace
- Updating the UK Export Strategy with specific support and promotion for green exporters
- Earmarking additional dedicated UK Export Finance for green trade
- Reaching an agreement between the UK and EU in the coming months on electric vehicles and batteries’ rules of origin, to avoid damaging new tariffs
The new manifesto has been updated to account for the latest developments in the world of international trade and to reflect that several asks from the first edition have been acted upon.
- Establishing a Government trade growth office (Preference Utilisation Unit)
- Fixing problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol
- Extending the grace period on CE marked goods
- Resolving a dispute with the US to avoid punitive tariffs
Shevaun Haviland, Director General of the BCC, said:
“The world of international trade is where British business belongs. If our economy is to grow then we must export more, it’s as simple as that.
“Firms that trade overseas grow faster, pay better and are more resilient. If the UK wants to remain one of the world’s largest economies, then we need more firms selling more goods and services internationally.
Our new manifesto sets out long-term strategy on the key areas where the Government must focus if it wants to hit its target of £1tn of exports.
“Trade is constantly developing and there are real opportunities for a global Britain to exploit new markets as technology advances, net zero takes hold and the geopolitical landscape shifts.
“We are already a world leader when it comes to digital trade and we must lean more heavily into the opportunities that will provide.
“We also need to build a strategy to protect the UK’s supply chains – the US, the EU and China are all investing £100bns in sustainable and low carbon technology.
“We don’t have that kind of money, but we do have great strengths – services, renewable energy, green finance, engineering, professional services, cutting edge manufacturing, food and drink exports, and R&D.
“We need to work with Government to put in place a framework that makes use of all the advantages the UK has, to keep us at the top table.
“Finally, we need to look again at ways of improving trade with the EU. It remains our biggest trading partner, but firms continue to express huge frustration with the complexity and costs involved – which go beyond what they face elsewhere.
“If we all work together to take action then we can revitalise our exports growth and help power up the UK economy.”
Paul Butterworth, CEO of Chambers Wales South East, South West and Mid, said:
“Businesses who export are generally more resilient to outside pressures as they have access to diverse international markets and more must be done to support firms in Wales and across the UK to achieve their global trade goals.
“Our recent Quarterly Economic Survey for Q2 of 2023, indicates that few businesses are seeing progress in current or future export sales. This is further highlighted in the ONS trade data released today (13 July) which reveals that exports of goods fell by 3.2% in May.
“In addition to the fantastic work carried out by ChamberCustoms and trade teams across the country to help firms access new markets and enhance their understanding of exporting, further support is required at a government level.
“For example, our Quarterly Economic Survey for Q2 revealed that 92% of businesses in Wales had not seen any government communication regarding the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) that the UK has recently joined. 93% of businesses didn’t know how the CPTPP could benefit their business so more needs be done to enable businesses to make the most of international opportunities.
“The BCC’s Trade Manifesto is a positive call for action that Government can use to boost economic prosperity and support their £1tn export target. With digitisation and sustainability at the core of many of the comprehensive proposals, the manifesto is a modern and refreshing long-term strategy that can reinvigorate export growth.”
Rochelle Sommer, Co-CEO of WTA Group, said:
“It is an exciting time for UK companies to enhance their international trade. Exporting is a great strategic tool for growth and can provide robustness to profit and loss, as it can minimise seasonal peaks and troughs and protect your growth strategy from pockets of economic downturn.
“As well as encouraging and supporting the £1tn export target, this manifesto is committed to the digitisation of supply chains, something we feel passionately about at WTA. This digitisation was one of the key drivers for our partnership with the BCC, as we feel digitisation is what turns supply chains from transactional parts of a business to strategic, and it’s where WTA can add the most value for our customers.”