Exports are a vital part of a nation’s growth

THIS week we produced our latest report focusing on how we as a nation boost our level of exports. Its findings show that there is much work to be done if we are to match the trade levels, and thereby the economic growth rates, of other small wealthy economies.

N-56 founder Dan Macdonald writes for The Scotsman. Picture: Jane Barlow

As a nation on the fringes of Europe we have a long trading history, with existing competitive advantages in sectors including oil and gas, high quality food and drink, education, tourism and the creative industries. Trade is an important driver of economic growth and small wealthy economies, such as Scotland’s, tend to trade more than larger ones, such as the countries making up the rest of the UK.

Continual benchmarking with our neighbours, however, means economic opportunities associated with a growth in trade are being missed. Notably, we are under-performing when compared with small wealthy economies, which due to higher levels of trade are growing faster economically than we are.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

A greater focus on increasing exports will not only boost economic growth, it could increase Scotland’s total trade by more than £77 billion, matching that of other small wealthy economies. Such an increase will require the Scottish Government and business sector to work closely together on developing an export-based economic growth strategy, echoing the example set by the likes of Denmark, New Zealand and Ireland.

Key features of such a strategy should include the delivery of a strong Scottish national brand, learning from best practice elsewhere – including the likes of New Zealand and Singapore – as well as targeted tax breaks in areas where we have existing strengths potential such as oil and gas, and food and drink.

We also need to address perceived weaknesses in infrastructure and global connections, including developing airport hub services and freight ports. And there is much we can do to ensure the experiences of companies based in Scotland which have been successful in exporting their products are shared with others.

As a nation we must broaden our horizons and look beyond the UK, learning from the success stories of other countries when it comes to developing an export-based growth strategy.

• Dan Macdonald is founder of N-56, an independent business organisation