Business leaders today called for measures to take the “fear” out of exporting after a major study showed that fewer than half of firms plan to expand their trade overseas.
The research, by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), suggests, that while 90 per cent of British businesses have ambitions to grow domestically, only 43 per cent have international plans. Its poll is one of the biggest ever undertaken, taking soundings from more than 4,700 companies.
The BCC said firms needed increased support if the UK was to fulfil its potential as a leading export nation.
Just over half of exporters responding to the survey said selling overseas had a positive impact on their bottom line within a year of expanding.
Europe and Asia were the most popular export regions for UK businesses, while of the “high-growth markets” identified by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), Hungary, Japan, Kazakhstan and Kuwait were perceived as providing the greatest opportunities for growth.
John Longworth, director general of the BCC, pictured, said: “It’s understandable that less than half of the businesses we surveyed have ambitions to grow internationally, but it proves that we need to do more as a nation to take the fear out of exporting.
“I speak to businesses that have full order books here in the UK and don’t see why they would need to take their goods and services overseas. To transform businesses’ domestic mindset, we need to create an environment that makes it worthwhile for them to export.
“If we in Britain are serious about rebalancing our economy, we must invest even more in supporting and promoting international trade. The UK should be matching the level of resourcing dedicated to export support provided by our major international competitors.”
He added that government intervention should focus on areas “that can really make a difference”, such as providing greater access to finance to growing firms. A quarter of non-exporters in the survey said that increased funding would encourage them to export.
The lobby group argued that more businesses needed to be proactive in looking for export opportunities.
Some 48 per cent of businesses were found to be “reactive” exporters – only supplying overseas customers when they receive unsolicited orders. There were more than twice as many reactive exporters as proactive exporters – businesses that adapt their product or service to specifically target overseas markets.
Trade minister Ian Livingston said: “This survey highlights the fact that while many UK companies are thriving abroad, for others the psychological barrier of taking that first step is the hardest.”
l Total retail sales grew at the slowest rate since May 2011 last month, according to the British Retail Consortium, which said price wars are having a “heavy toll” on supermarkets’ profitability.