Trade gap prompts calls for national export plan

David Kern warned long-term trends remained a 'concern'. Picture: Complimentary

David Kern warned long-term trends remained a 'concern'. Picture: Complimentary

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BUSINESS leaders yesterday called for the launch of a national export strategy after Britain’s annual trade deficit widened to its highest level in four years.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents tens of thousands of UK companies, said Westminster was “clearly not making adequate progress in rebalancing our economy”.

Official figures revealed that the trade shortfall in 2014 rose to £34.8 billion, up from £33.7bn the year before, and the largest deficit since 2010.

In December, the trade deficit on goods and services grew more sharply than expected to £2.9bn – the highest since July – from £1.8bn the previous month, as cheap oil prices saw volume imports of the commodity reach their highest level in more than six years.

David Kern, chief economist at the BCC, said: “While monthly figures can be erratic, the longer terms trends are still concerning.

“We are clearly not making adequate progress in rebalancing our economy, and the weakening of the eurozone is creating problems for our exporters. Much greater efforts are needed to develop a national strategy for boosting exports, with improved access to finance for growing firms.”

December saw a widening deficit in goods trade to £10.2bn while a surplus in the services sector narrowed to £7.3bn.

For the year, the goods deficit continued to widen, reaching £119.9bn. It is now more than five times higher than when comparable records began in 1998 and the figure stood at £22.2bn. The figures come amid efforts to rebalance the economy away from its dependence on domestic demand, with total goods exports falling by £14.6bn from the previous year to £292bn.

Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist at forecasting consultancy IHS Global Insight, said: “While UK growth will clearly remain heavily dependent on domestic demand, the hope for UK exporters has to be that global growth will pick up as 2015 progresses. However, the strength of sterling against euro could hamper exporters.”

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