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Optimistic year ahead for Scottish trade and exports

08 Feb 2022 • 5 minute read

Interim Managing Director Neil Francis shares his outlook for Scottish exports

Container ship docked in Grangemouth port

As we emerge from the pandemic and its impact on international trade, our interim Managing Director Neil Francis shares his outlook for Scottish exports and the support available to international buyers seeking innovative solutions.

Written by Neil Francis opens in a new window  

While Covid-19 has impacted all parts of the global economy, one of the hardest hit areas has been international trade.

The year 2020 marked some of the largest reductions in trade since World War II, according to a report from the London School of Economics. Despite growth resuming in 2021, the World Trade Organisation said Covid-19 continues to present risks to global trade, particularly if further variants were to emerge.

Closer to home, the impact of Covid-19, the end of the EU Transition Period and supply chain challenges have contributed to a decline in Scotland’s export rate, compared to pre-pandemic levels. It was a similar picture across the UK, with a £37 billion (11%) decrease in exports for the annual period ending September 2021 compared with the corresponding period in 2019, according to HMRC.

Neil Francis, Interim Managing Director at Scottish Development International

Neil Francis, Interim Managing Director

Alongside the physical barriers to global trade caused by Covid-19, including the closure of borders and transport restrictions, we also witnessed a change in consumer behaviour during the pandemic, with many customers adopting more "localised" purchasing habits.

So, the situation for those in international trade has been extremely challenging for the past two years. But there is hope.

Scottish businesses target international export growth and new market opportunities

With Scotland appearing to turn the corner against Omicron and protective Covid-19 measures recently being lifted by the Scottish Government, there’s a cautious sense of optimism among many in the business community that we may be returning to some form of normality in terms of global exports.

Intelligence we’ve gleaned from the many Scottish companies we engage with on a regular basis suggests that two of the biggest opportunities for firms in Scotland are international growth and new markets, driven by expected increased demand for their goods and services.

At the end of 2021, 69% of Scottish companies were exporting at "normal" levels again.

While this is only a snapshot of business in Scotland, it’s heartening to know many firms continue to adopt a global outlook.

Despite the pandemic, companies across Scotland have continued to trade in international markets – Scottish Enterprise-supported companies were able to forecast international export sales in excess of £1 billion in the financial year 2020/21.

Scottish food and drink, energy, space and life sciences products and services selling globally

Our trade specialists and our partners have continued to bang the drum for Scotland in priority markets across the world. Some highlights include:

We’ve also been thrilled to work with some of Scotland’s most innovative companies to support their international aspirations. For example, we’ve worked closely with tidal energy technology firm Sustainable Marine, which announced in February plans to deliver a floating tidal energy platform in Nova Scotia, Canada.

And in September, Glenmorangie opens in a new window  announced the opening of its Lighthouse innovation distillery (pictured) near Tain. Scottish Enterprise’s support will allow the company to bring exciting, new products to global markets more quickly than ever.

So, we begin 2022 in an optimistic mood, and our team at home and across the globe have already been busy highlighting the very best Scotland has to offer to international buyers.

Glenmorangie distillery

The Glenmorangie distillery

In the US, we’ve supported the involvement of Scottish companies in two major trade events: the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market opens in a new window and the PGA Merchandise Show opens in a new window  in Orlando, Florida.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, we supported Scotland’s Digital Health and Wellness Day event at Expo 2020, which showcased our country’s approach to and solutions for improving some of the biggest global healthcare issues.

Looking further ahead, we’re excited to be participating in Scotland’s two Race to Net Zero day events at Expo 2020 in March, which will highlight our country’s leading role in tackling the climate emergency.

These events will give us the opportunity to share our hydrogen ambitions, which include generating 5GW of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen by 2030. Many of the successful applications from the recent ScotWind leasing round opens in a new window  have ambitions for green hydrogen, which presents us with significant energy and export opportunities.

Alongside this activity, we will continue to provide support to Scotland’s existing exporters. Our prestigious international networks, such as GlobalScot opens in a new window , offer critical market insights to businesses across Scotland, opening doors for firms to allow them to enter markets overseas.

Indeed, GlobalScot continues to grow with the network recently passing the milestone of 500 members in Europe. There are now more than 1,080 GlobalScots based across the world.

All of this activity is aligned to the Scottish Government’s Vision for Trade opens in a new window , a blueprint that sets out Scotland’s values-based approach to international trade and investment.

Support for international buyers

If you’re an overseas buyer, we can help you find the products and services you need, along with expert advice and support to find a Scottish supplier.

You can also search industry directories of businesses exporting from Scotland opens in a new window . You’ll find more than 3,500 suppliers across 12 directories, such as life sciences, space tech, subsea engineering and renewable energy.

Need help making the right connections? Tell us about your business and we’ll find and introduce you to your ideal trade partner in Scotland.

We can also offer the latest information on markets and trends, while you’ll also benefit from the local knowledge of our trade advisers and GlobalScot network around the world.

And to help you import goods and services from the UK, our partners at UK Export Finance offer a range of financing solutions for international buyers.

So, while the past two years have been difficult for exporters, it’s clear that Scotland’s global reputation for quality has not diminished. We are well placed to take advantage of emerging export opportunities and welcome new trade partners.

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