THE volume of international exports from Scotland has fallen and the value of retail sales has flat-lined, new economic data shows.
The amount of exports dropped 0.5% in the first three months of 2016 to a level that was 2.1% lower than the same period last year.
Business Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the latest manufactured export statistics show the Scottish economy “continues to face substantial challenges”.
Meanwhile, separate figures show the value of retail sales in Scotland remained flat in the period April to June 2016, with the growth in the volume of sales much lower than the level recorded across the UK.
The number of retail sales rose 1% in Britain in the second quarter of 2016, but north of the border the rise was 0.2%
The decline in exports was recorded ahead of the UK’s vote for Brexit, which some economists have suggested could make British goods and services more attractive to overseas buyers as a result of falls in the value of the pound.
But Mr Wheelhouse insisted maintaining Scotland’s place in the European single market is “absolutely vital” for Scotland.
He said: “Subdued global demand and the impact of a lower oil price environment have contributed to a drop in first quarter export volumes for companies working in several parts of the Scottish economy.”
While the drop in driven by falls in the refined petroleum, chemical and pharmaceutical sector, as well as the metals industry, Mr Wheelhouse highlighted a 3.3% quarterly rise in food and drink exports in the first three months of the year.
Although drink sales overseas were up 6.2%, the food industry recorded a 8.9% decline over the period.
With textile, clothing and leather sales up by 2.1% over the quarter, Mr Wheelhouse stressed: “While Scotland’s economy is fundamentally strong, our continued EU status - and thereby our place in the world’s biggest single market - is absolutely vital when it comes to promoting trade and protecting jobs, investment and long-term-prosperity, and this why we are committed to pursuing every possible avenue to maintain our place in the EU.
“Trade and business continues as normal and we are determined that Scotland will continue to be an attractive and a stable place to do business and, with this in mind, our enterprise agencies work day in, day out to support businesses to compete and, ideally, lead in both domestic and export markets.”
The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said the latest figures “continue the recent trend of effectively flat retail sales”.
SRC head of policy and external affairs Ewan MacDonald-Russell said: “This comes against the backdrop of an industry going through an intense period of structural, economic and regulatory change.
READ MORE: Scots international exports lower than 2002
“Retailers are responding to this environment by becoming more innovative and productive through investment in people, technology and more efficient logistics systems. However, that’s difficult when facing weak retail sales, falling shop prices and rising Government-imposed tax and regulatory costs.
“When the uncertainty resulting from the Brexit vote is also considered, it becomes clear just how hard it is on the high street right now.
“We hope the Scottish Government will recognise these challenges facing the industry and work with us to support retailers to help grow the Scottish economy.”