Exports down 'significantly' at end of 2015 as manufacturers struggle
Exports fell "significantly" at the end of last year, with manufacturing firms struggling in particular, according to a new study.
Research by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) showed that the balance of manufacturers reporting improvements in export sales in the last quarter of 2015 compared with the previous three months fell to its lowest level since 2009.
The biggest declines were in the West Midlands, North West and East Midlands, the survey of more than 3,000 companies showed.
The biggest increases were in the North East, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
BCC director general John Longworth said: "British exporters have faced considerable challenges in recent months. Slowing growth in China and the US, along with the continued weakness in the eurozone, have made it harder for firms to build momentum.
"While the rate of growth has dropped significantly, exports are continuing to grow - a testament to British businesses, particularly in the face of such global uncertainty.
"However, if we are to reverse our longstanding trade deficit then British firms need greater practical support - access to finance, a skilled workforce and good infrastructure connections - if they are to successfully break into new export markets, and this needs to be a national priority for the UK, otherwise we risk being left behind in the global race."
Phil Couchman, chief executive of DHL Express, which helped with the research, added: "Some areas of the UK are showing strong growth in export volumes. However, with most regions experiencing declining volumes and the UK's trade gap recently reaching an all-time high, it's more important than ever that we concentrate on supporting more British businesses to export.
"The UK's relentless demand for imported goods means that we need to work hard to significantly boost exports and strike the right balance."
Shadow trade minister Kevin Brennan said: "These figures show that George Osborne has been asleep at the wheel. He's leaving our economy insufficiently resilient to advancing global threats and not in a high enough state of readiness to seize on the fast-approaching opportunities to make sure that Britain benefits most.
"Ahead of the Budget, the Chancellor must acknowledge that on his watch domestic structural weaknesses in the UK economy have been allowed to persist and they are now in danger of holding Britain back."