Nicola Sturgeon: growth ambition at the heart of Scottish Government's export strategy

Scotland has a rich history as a trading nation, with a tradition of commerce with neighbours near and far stretching back over many centuries.
Nicola Sturgeon at the launch of the Scottish Government's new strategy on exports. Picture: PANicola Sturgeon at the launch of the Scottish Government's new strategy on exports. Picture: PA
Nicola Sturgeon at the launch of the Scottish Government's new strategy on exports. Picture: PA

It is a tradition that we need to embrace and enhance as we look forwards to the challenges and opportunities of the next decade and beyond.Because, while the fundamentals of the Scottish economy remain strong and diverse, I believe there is a pressing need to expand our exporting base, so that more individual businesses have the confidence to increase their export activities – or, in some cases, for companies to begin exporting for the first time.

It is a fact that Scotland exports proportionately less than many of our competitors, including some of our friends and neighbours from smaller European nations, from whom we can learn and whose successes we should seek to emulate.

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Scotland: a Trading Nation (a plan for growing Scotland’s exports) sets out how we can add around £3.5 billion to the nation’s GDP and create 17,500 more jobs. Achieving this ambition would see overseas exports almost double from their current value of £32bn by 2029.

That is an ambitious target, but ambition and confidence should be central to our strategy because Scotland has much to be positive about when it comes to our exporting potential.

For a start, recent years have seen us substantially outstrip the rest of the UK when it comes to growth in exports. Data from HMRC shows that Scottish exports of goods increased by 6 per cent last year – faster than any other UK nation and double the overall UK-wide rate.

And the total value of Scotland’s overseas exports is already substantial. In the decade up to 2017, the value of goods and services exported rose by 58 per cent, from £20.6bn to £32.4bn.

Of course it is almost impossible to talk of the Scottish or wider UK economy without acknowledging the reality of Brexit and the threat which being removed from the European Union and its single market poses.

That threat is a very real one. The UK Government’s Brexit policy is one which would remove us from the world’s largest single market – one which is around eight times the size of the UK market alone.

But while the shadow of EU withdrawal looms large over all discussion of future economic strategy, it is not an excuse to stand still.

In some ways, it makes the urgency of developing a new exporting strategy even more pressing.

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And it should be acknowledged that Scotland has some huge, inherent economic strengths when it comes to maximising the untapped potential of our export market.

Our food and drink sector is already a massive success story and is poised to capitalise further by breaking into even more new overseas markets.

The strategy we launched last month includes a range of specific measures aimed at ensuring that it and other sectors get the support they need to build on existing success.

We will increase the network of Global Scot business representatives abroad from 600 to 2,000 people in key markets, while also adding up to 15 in-market specialists to the countries which together make up more than two-thirds of our export opportunities.

Research from CBI Scotland shows that exporting companies are more competitive, innovative and productive – so supporting companies to boost their international activity will have spin-off benefits for the economy as a whole.

Despite the undoubted success we have had in increasing international trade in recent years, our exports have remained broadly static as a proportion of the economy, which means

Scotland is not internationalising at the pace required to keep up with our competitors.

But if our new export strategy is successful over the next decade then it would see the value of exports increase from 20 to 25 per cent of Scotland’s total GDP. That gives an idea of the scale of the prize – and it is one we should aim to seize enthusiastically. “Scotland has much to be positive about when it comes to our exporting potential”

Nicola Sturgeon

First Minister of Scotland