SCOTLAND’S international exports increased by £1.4 billion to £26bn in 2012, new figures on national trade showed.
There was a 7.9 per cent surge in manufacturing exports and a 5.6 per cent rise in service sector exports, according to Scottish Government statistics.
Scotland’s other top performing sectors were food and drink, petroleum, chemicals and wholesale retail during 2012, it was revealed.
The top five industry sectors account for more than half - or 52 per cent - of total international exports from Scotland that year, according to the official data.
America was Scotland’s biggest market in 2012, when it was worth £3.6 billion to Scottish businesses, with firms also heavily exporting to major European Union powers such as Germany and France.
Holland was Scotland’s second biggest market outside the UK at £2.7 billion, followed by £2.2 billion in France and £1.5 billion in Germany, the survey confirmed.
A Scottish business leader said the findings published yesterday showed “confidence and optimism are returning” as part of an economic recovery.
CBI Scotland’s senior policy executive, Laura McMahon, said: “The findings are extremely encouraging. Confidence and optimism are returning, and this in turn is improving the competitiveness of Scottish businesses.”
Lena Wilson, Scottish Enterprise chief executive, said the latest findings showed the agency had helped improve “Scotland’s international competitiveness”.
She said: “We welcome the findings of the latest Global Connections Survey which reinforce not only a growing appetite for Scottish products and services worldwide but increased ambition and competitiveness amongst Scottish businesses.
“International trade is increasing and markets are becoming more open – that’s why as well as focusing on our traditional trading partners such as the US and Europe, which are particularly important for new exporters.” The findings were also welcomed by leading exporters Bebaroque, an Edinburgh based fashion firm and Rage Music, a Glasgow based Bafta award winning music company.
Caroline Gorman, Rage Music’s head of music said: “Our activity in the US marketplace has brought real growth to our business over the last five years.”
Designer Mhairi McNicol, of Bebaroque, said: “Ecommerce has allowed us to sell our products globally.”
Finance Secretary John Swinney said the export figures showed “increased demand for Scottish goods and services and the popularity of the Scottish brand across the world”.
Mr Swinney added: “They are particularly encouraging given the challenging economic conditions in Europe and show that there continue to be opportunities for Scotland’s exporters.
“These figures show increased demand for Scottish goods and services and the popularity of the Scottish brand across the world.
“They are particularly encouraging given the challenging economic conditions in Europe and show that there continue to be opportunities for Scotland’s exporters.
“It is essential that Scotland remains focused on international trade and investment.”
The figures showed trade with the rest of the UK accounted for a large chunk of Scotland’s exports in 2012 with an estimated £47.6 billion worth of Scottish goods sold in other parts of Britain.Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael said the findings boosted the case for a No vote in the referendum and claimed an independent Scotland would lose international trade with the loss of the UK’s influence overseas.
Mr Carmichael said: “The increase in Scottish exports and Scotland’s trade within the rest of the UK is welcome news. This shows being part of the UK benefits Scottish businesses at home and abroad.
“The rise in Scottish exports, particularly in manufacturing, is very encouraging.”
SNP MSP Dennis Robertson said the sharp rise in exports showed that Scotland’s economy is “gathering strength”.
He said: ““Growing our economy and creating jobs has been at the heart of the SNP’s approach to Government and this 17 per cent growth in exports shows that this approach is paying dividends.”