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Survey shows sales growth stagnated for UK exporters in 2021

A survey of over 2,700 UK exporters has revealed that export sales growth has been effectively stagnant for the past year. The British Chambers of Commerce’s (BCC’s) quarterly Trade Confidence Outlook showed the proportion of exporters reporting increased overseas sales to be unchanged from Q4 at 29%, while those reporting a decrease rose one point to 25%. 

The data showed that manufacturers were more likely to report increased export sales than either business to business service firms (such as lawyers or accountants) or business to consumer service firms (like online clothing stores). 

The survey results found that in the last three months:

  • Export sales increased by 32% for exporting manufacturers, 26% for exporting B2B services and 26% for exporting B2C services
  • Export sales remained constant for 42% of exporting manufacturers, 56% of exporting B2B services and 42% for exporting B2C services
  • Decreased for 26% of exporting manufacturers, 17% of exporting B2B manufacturers and 32% of exporting B2C services

Conversely, B2B service exporters were more likely than either manufacturers or B2C service exporters to expect profitability to increase in the coming year. 

According to the survey, over the next 12 months, business believe their profitability will:

  • Increase – 44% for exporting manufacturers, 55% for exporting B2B services and 45% for exporting B2C services
  • Remain constant – 29% exporting manufacturers, 29% exporting B2B services and 30% exporting B2C services
  • Decrease – 27% exporting manufacturers, 16% exporting B2B services and 24% exporting B2C services

Responding to the findings, Head of Trade Policy at the BCC, William Bain, said: “This data confirms our concerns – that for the last year there was a broadly flat picture for UK exports. This is in contrast with the performance of our near neighbours, with Germany’s exports both within and outside the Single Market steaming ahead by double digit margins and with trade losses from the pandemic already effectively recovered.  

“UK exporters are facing the headwinds of higher red tape costs from trading with the EU, raised raw material pressures, and ongoing issues in global shipping markets. If we are to realise the aspirations of the UK Government’s Export Strategy then 2022 has to be the year where these structural factors holding back our exporters are addressed. 

“Sustained export growth should be powering our economic recovery from the pandemic. Chambers and their members are already working hard to increase exports but need more substantive measures from Government now.” 

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