Business leaders today called for an improvement in the “lacklustre” performance of the UK as a trading nation under moves to give the economy a £20 billion boost.
The CBI said the UK should aim to match the European Union average of one in four small to medium-sized enterprises exporting by 2020, compared with the current average of one in five.
The Government was urged to set out a “clear exports strategy”, with performance targets concentrating on high-growth markets and tackling domestic barriers.
A report published to mark the CBI's annual conference in London today said an “export enabling test” should be introduced for all new legislation and capacity at airports should be increased.
CBI director general John Cridland said: “The UK has a proud history as a great trading nation but in recent years our performance has been lacklustre.
“Exports success will be one of the key drivers of growth but for too long we have been over-dependent on advanced economies for our trade.
“The continued crisis in the eurozone underlines just how important it is for the UK to diversify its export efforts to high-growth countries.
“Given that we're already playing catch-up with many of our competitors, we must act now to target high-growth economies, leapfrog the competition and deliver our growth potential.
“The new middle classes in emerging economies will have needs that our niche, high-end producers are more than able to fulfil.”
Steve Varley, of Ernst & Young, which helped with the report, added: “Our inability to break into and succeed in high-growth markets is due to a historic mismatch between the goods and services we currently sell and those demanded by high-growth economies.”
The UK economy could be given a £20 billion lift by 2020 if the report's recommendations were put into action, said the CBI.
Minister for Trade and Investment Lord Green said: “The report by CBI and Ernst & Young is broadly welcomed.
“We have a national challenge to increase exports. This is a challenge for all of us — for Government, for business and for business organisations.
“Trade has been a drag on growth for far too long. We need more companies to start selling overseas and moving out of their comfort zones into high-growth markets.”