Export dashboard: Government can do more to help exporters

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The monthly export dashboard was published today and the most recent trade data shows that exports still have some way to go.

Analysis and dashboard first published in today's Daily TelegraphOn Friday ONS published December's trade data along with the annual trade figures for 2013. Looking firstly at the shorter-term picture, in the month of December goods exports grew and the goods trade deficit narrowed compared with the previous month. Goods exports growth was also relatively broad based across commodities and regions in the last month of 2013. However, the picture is not as rosy when looking at the quarterly figures, which showed falling goods exports to the EU more than offsetting an increase in goods exports to non-EU markets.

Focusing now on 2013 as a whole, Friday's figures show that UK exports grew quite modestly over the year expanding 1.4% to reach £501.4 billion. This growth from a broad geographical base and goods exports to both EU and Non-EU markets increased in value over the year by 1.4% and 1.2% respectively. Overall growth was slightly ahead of our own forecasts but falls well short of the annual growth needed to meet the government's target to grow UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020.

In light of this, what can we expect from export growth for the year ahead? While business surveys have pointed to more confidence in new order intake from the domestic market, we are seeing signs that export demand will gather pace through the course of this year and can expect official data to follow suit. Manufacturers are more positive about 2014 prospects than they were about growth and opportunities for 2013. According to EEF's Executive Survey 2014, export sales are expected, on balance, to increase and emerging market demand for products was identified as the greatest opportunity for 2014, with 39% of companies saying they expect it to be a source of growth.

A recent report ‘Tracking the Export Journey' published by EEF, in conjunction with Barclays, shows clear ambition by manufacturers to grow their exports. It also highlights the challenges companies face in doing so – there are no hard and fast rules about the best way to enter new markets and it demands considerable time and commitment. However, those who are successful in exporting are ultimately rewarded with better performance and a diverse and resilient customer base.

Doubling UK exports by 2020 requires not just getting more companies to export but the government helping to provide a route into faster growing but less familiar markets. The government needs to do its part by creating a competitive business environment and highlighting the benefits of UKTI to those interested or involved in exporting.

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