UK firms hampered by export barriers

The number of businesses in the UK exporting goods and services has risen in the past year, despite many saying they are held back by 'external barriers', a survey has found.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) questioned more than 8,000 businesses and found that nearly a third (32 per cent) now export goods, up from just over a fifth (22 per cent) last year.

However, the survey also revealed that businesses face a number of challenges in the UK's export market that are holding back growth.

Of those that export, 63 per cent of businesses claim to experience obstacles, with access to finance, international regulations and red tape cited as the most common barriers to increasing sales. A difference in language and cultural barriers were also blamed.

According to the BCC, many businesses may be missing out on export opportunities to large and faster growing economies of countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. The survey confirms that the EU remains the top destination for UK exports, seen as a 'traditional' market with less regulatory burdens.

Speaking to the Telegraph, John Longworth, director general of the BCC, said: "We need to find ways to make our businesses think global."

Large exporters are most likely to take advantage of upcoming and fast growing economies, while small businesses are unlikely to penetrate this market, or view them as a potential opportunity for growth.

Figures from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found that only four per cent of the UK's exports go to faster growing economies, compared with 11 per cent of German and US exports. In addition, only one in five SMEs in the UK currently exports, compared to one in four in the EU.

The BCC is now calling for faster implementation of the European Commission's Single Market Act to make it easier for Britain to export to the EU. It includes measures to boost e-commerce, make it easier to obtain EU patents and to simplify the process in which SMEs can bid for public contracts.

David Kern, chief economist for the BCC said: "The global environment will continue to pose serious challenges for our exporters at a time when they are trying to maintain their positions in international markets. British exporters have major untapped potential but the government should do more to help them overcome the obstacles facing them."