The British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) is calling for more support for firms looking to trade overseas to help increase exports.
A survey of more than 4,500 businesses revealed that the share number of Chamber members exporting continues to increase. However, the findings also suggest that gaps surrounding the general know-how of how to take a product or service overseas are holding back firms from taking the initial step towards exporting.
The BCC also identified a major shortfall in foreign language skills within the business community, and in addition to more support for non-exporters, the BCC is encouraging the take-up of foreign languages – both in school and in the workplace.
“We know that exporting is crucial for the success of the UK economy, so it is encouraging to see that the percentage of exporting businesses within our membership has increased,” said John Longworth, director general of the BCC.
“However, more can and should be done to help businesses take the first step towards exporting their goods and services. The overseas market may seem daunting to a non-exporter, but the rewards that these companies get in return can be outstanding, as I see first-hand from the successful businesses that I meet every day.
“Our message is always ‘have a go’, but we do believe there is more that the government can do to help get more businesses thinking globally – a crucial requirement of the 21st century age we live in.”
The survey revealed that the perception of exporting often acts as a barrier, with 58% of non-exporters reporting they do not have a suitable product or service.
Manufacturing (17%), IT and media firms (13%) citied the largest skills shortages, claiming that a lack of knowledge of the commercial aspects of getting a product or service to market overseas was a barrier to trade.
Almost two thirds (63%), of non-exporters who would consider trading abroad see proficiency in foreign languages, or lack thereof, as a barrier to do so. Business owners with some foreign language skills suggested that their level of fluency did not extend far enough to conduct deals in their buyers language, and this is seen as doubly important when conducting business outside of the largest cities and administrative centres.
Of the businesses surveyed, 57% spoke no German, 65% no Spanish and 76% no Italian. And, language barriers became more acute in faster-growing markets outside of the EU, with 95% of the businesses surveyed claiming they have no knowledge of Russian or Chinese.
“It is critical that firms understand the challenges and opportunities attached to the export market,” said Mr Longworth.
“Helping companies forge new connection, through trade promotions and incentives, will help companies to think internationally. Furthermore, a renewed focus on language skills at school and in the workplace will ensure that we continue to export the finest goods and services that Britain has to offer.
“To really secure Britain’s future as a leading global exporter, we need to do all we can to encourage companies to take advantage of new markets. Giving businesses the opportunity to foster links with international firms, training employees, and educating the workforce of tomorrow will boost our export activity in both the short and long term, and help the UK win the ‘economic war’ that the Prime Minister has frequently spoken of.”