By Kate Madley

Boosting export activity has been at the forefront of British business thinking this November with the UKTI calling on SMEs to pursue international trade opportunities in a bid to drive an export-led recovery.

Latest figures from the ONS suggest exports saw a 1.7% increase in the third quarter of 2012 when compared with the previous quarter. The rise in exports is partly attributed to higher spending by foreign tourists, as this spend is viewed as an export.

However, research conducted by invoice provider Bibby Financial Services found that just 16% of SMEs are considering international trade to help improve business over the next 12 months.

The results suggest SMEs are giving a higher priority to training and staff development (34%) and investing in their firm’s social media presence (29%).

With Chancellor George Osborne challenging companies to double their exports to £1 trillion by 2020, Government might be surprised by the mood presented through the research.

“Exploring export opportunities is extremely important for Welsh business,” said Graham Morgan, director of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce.

“From our experience, Welsh anchor companies are investing money in staff training and development, and for many businesses today social media is an effective marketing tool.

“But for a Welsh SME, priority is to keep business afloat, and I would suggest that many do not have the resource to release staff on training days, and therefore it is not necessarily a business priority at the moment.”

In Wales, 99% of enterprises are classed as SMEs or micro-businesses and exploring the opportunities for international trade is seen by the Chamber as a key driver for economic growth.

“There are three key areas that we have identified as mechanisms for growth; the first is to build the number of businesses trading outside of the UK,” said the Chamber’s director.

“At present, approximately 1,200 Welsh firms export their goods internationally, and this only accounts for 0.5% of the total number of businesses in Wales.

“Further opportunities lie in the academic sector. Building and strengthening links with our alumni who already have a clear connection with Wales is a far easier sell for businesses looking to extend their international connections.

“We also have a significant number of international students here in Wales who contribute up to £20,000 of spend in the Welsh economy. By harnessing these connections it will only benefit business here in Wales.

“Finally, we must aim to take a greater share of the overseas tourism spend. Welsh tourism accounts for a small percentage of our total income and this is a sector we feel has huge potential for growth.

“An up to date website, which acts like a shop window for your business, is one way of raising the profile to international visitors. We would also encourage businesses to have their website translated to languages other than English and Welsh to suit an international audience.”