International Trade

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SMEs in rural areas overtake London and Manchester as top exporters

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According to a FedEx Express report, the majority of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the UK are doing business overseas, with Bradford leading the way with an 86 per cent export rate.

In cities including Leicester, Oxford and Leeds, over three quarters of SMEs are trading at higher levels than Britain’s larger cities of Manchester and London.

In terms of average monthly export sales, Portsmouth, which has an export rate of 75 per cent, has a sizeable lead ahead of other UK cities, recording £1.95m per annum in export sales. 

The city Derby recorded the highest SME export growth rates over the last 12 months.

Some 80 per cent of SMEs which export believe that being a British brand provides a competitive edge when it comes to exporting, rising to 86 per cent in Birmingham, 88 per cent in Portsmouth and 90 per cent in Southampton.

However, three cities, which all appeared in the list of 26 key British cities, were more likely than average to say a geographical location was a hindrance on international trade – Newcastle (16 per cent), Hull (14 per cent) and Norwich (13 per cent).

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On the other hand, two thirds of SMEs view a city’s industrial heritage as a positive, peaking in Hull (81 per cent), Glasgow and Oxford (both 79 per cent).

Some 94 per cent of SMEs feel optimistic about the year ahead, with eight in ten believing export sales will increase again over the next 12 months.

UK SMEs are aware of the benefits of exporting, with 63 per cent recording an improvement in financial performance, while four in ten employed more staff and just over a quarter are now able to compete with larger players.

“This research has unveiled some fascinating insights into how regional self-perception and business optimism can be linked,” said Trevor Hoyle, vice president of northern Europe operations at FedEx Express. “Our Great British history is rich and full of industrial heritage, the promotion of which can go a long way in driving UK exports forward.” 

But more than a third of SMEs highlighted the need for more support on a local level to achieve international expansion. Cities where this help is most needed includes Nottingham (47 per cent), Hull (50 per cent) and Aberdeen (55 per cent).

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