Scottish exports are booming but Brexit threatens our brand

This week Glasgow is hosting the Scottish Export Awards – an event which brings together businesses from across Scotland to recognise and celebrate their achievements in selling their goods and services overseas.

The awards ceremony comes on the back of excellent news for Scotland’s exports. Statistics published last week showed our international trade growing at a rate faster than any other part of the UK.

There was good news for many sectors but particularly for oil and gas which showed a marked increase of 45 per cent, demonstrating that confidence is returning to one of Scotland’s most important industries.

Key markets such as China have seen a huge increase of over 40 per cent in goods being exported from Scotland. In fact, goods exported from Scotland to China have a value to our economy of £2.2 billion and are increasing at a faster rate than to any of our other top five export partners. That’s one of the reasons that I’m looking forward to returning to China in April to help promote all that Scotland has to offer and build on the strength of the Chinese market to create jobs and opportunities here at home.

There is also huge demand for Scotland’s goods closer to home. Exports of goods as a whole to the EU increased by 24 per cent, meaning we now export 49 per cent of all of our international exports to our European neighbours. Yet again this demonstrates the EU’s importance to Scotland as a trading partner and underlines why it is so vital that we stay in the European single market. In fact, the Netherlands has now overtaken the USA as Scotland’s largest export partner.

Of course this means the continuing uncertainty surrounding the UK government’s Brexit plans, and the prospect of being taken out of the world’s biggest single market – which, let’s remember, is around eight times larger than the UK market – would be potentially devastating to Scottish exports.

Losing our place in the European Single Market and the Customs Union is not the only concerning issue facing the future of our exports – just as worryingly, the protection of the valuable status of the goods themselves is at risk. Many products – Stornoway Black Pudding, Arbroath Smokies to name just a couple – benefit from EU Protected Food Name status. This means that it is illegal to imitate some of our best food and drink. Not only does this protect the prestige of a product but on average it’s estimated to more than double its value.

We are already seeing reports of other countries such as the USA seeing Brexit as an ‘opportunity’ for relaxing these and other rules on food standards – so there is no doubt that the loss of these protections in a hard Brexit scenario is of extreme concern and would come at a terrible cost for many large and small companies in Scotland.

As our food and drink exports now reach record levels, it has never been more important to protect our worldwide reputation as a producer of excellence in food and drink.

Exporting and international trade remain central to the Scottish Government’s economic growth agenda and we are increasing our focus on inspiring, enabling and supporting more businesses to sell more goods and services to a wider range of international markets through a series of measures.

We have a new Trade and Investment Strategy that is now being implemented by a specialist Board. We have also appointed expert Trade Envoys. Scottish Development International has a global network of 29 offices and is doubling the number of staff working in Europe. This, coupled with our expanded network of Innovation and Investment Hubs, will help provide even more support for business and help drive growth.

We already have a significant number of companies from Scotland enjoying incredible success in exporting, but we want more to join them, particularly our small and medium-sized enterprises for whom there are massive opportunities.

Here in Glasgow, there are many success stories – even for relatively new businesses. The Glasgow Distillery Company began exporting in 2015, just a year after they launched, and in that short time now export to most of the EU, the USA, Asia and Australia.

Trtl is another young, dynamic Glasgow-based company which is enjoying increasing success internationally as well as recognition at home, having won the Ecommerce Exporter of the Year at last year’s Scottish Export Awards. They have seen rapid growth in international orders for their innovative travel pillows, particularly in the USA, and are seeing increasing interest form other markets.

Both the Glasgow Distilling Company and Trtl have benefitted from public sector support and they are only two of many – in 2016-17 200 companies were supported by SDI to become exporters.

There is growing global interest in Scotland and what we have to offer, highlighting the importance of international markets to our economy. The opportunities for Scottish companies are endless and the Scottish Government, alongside our enterprise agencies and other partners, will continue to put a strong focus on supporting even more business to seize them.

This article originally appeared in the Evening Times