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Trade data

Brexit and pandemic blamed as exports fall further


Trade figures worsening

Export trade has worsened with more British firms reporting a decline in overseas sales.

New figures for the first quarter of 2021 show 41% of companies report a fall in exports compared to 38% in the final three months of 2020.

The data is revealed in a survey of 2,900 exporters in the British Chambers of Commerce’s Trade Confidence Outlook.

Further breakdown of the data reveals that hotels, catering, retail and wholesale firms were the worst hit. Just 4% of hotels and catering firms reported an increase in export sales, with only 14% doing so in retail and wholesale.

Respondents cited Brexit and the impact of Covid-19 as the biggest causes of problems in trade.

Firms told of issues such as shipping delays, increased cost of transporting goods and extensive paperwork requirements, with many seeing the problems they were facing as structural in nature rather than short term issues likely to alleviate as companies adjusted to the changes in the UK-EU trading relationship.  

Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, Hannah Essex, said:   “Given that export sales are at some of the lowest levels ever recorded in the history of our data, the fact that situation is continuing to deteriorate is concerning. 

“These new figures show that UK exporters are currently facing a range of issues that go beyond just those that have been created by the pandemic.”

Business activity rebounds

New NatWest Regional PMI data showed a rebound in business activity across nearly all parts of the UK in March.

It comes amid widespread reports of customer demand increasing in line with the easing of lockdown restrictions and ahead of further loosening in the months ahead.

Rising workloads and strong business optimism meanwhile supported an upturn in employment across the majority of UK regions, despite firms coming under increased pressure from rising costs.

The PMI Business Activity Index is the first fact-based indicator of regional economic health published each month, tracking the monthly change in the output of goods and services across the private sector.

A reading above 50 signals growth, and the further above the 50 level the faster the expansion signalled.

Business activity rose in 11 out of the 12 UK regions at the end of the first quarter.

Growth was led by the East of England, where it was a series record high at 60.9, while Scotland came in ninth at 54.3. Northern Ireland (49.7) recorded the only decline, though even here activity moved closer to stabilisation, falling only marginally and at the slowest rate for five months.

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