Small firms still in the dark over free trade benefits

UK small businesses are buckling under the strain of COVID and Brexit with many giving up any attempts to trade internationally.

The Federation of Small Businesses issued a report in which it has called for the UK Government to step up its support for the thousands of small businesses to break down the barriers to enable them to take advantage of current and future trade deals.

The report, Ready to Launch, called on the Department for International Trade (DIT) to use its upcoming Export Strategy to “supercharge the recovery by targeting support at small and micro businesses at a time when they need it most.”

It added that 80% of small firms have been left in the dark about the real benefits of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), adding more must be done to promote the benefits of trade deals and ensure they are useable by small businesses

“The DIT should reform and replace the Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) with a new initiative modelled on the Canadian CanExport programme, providing more funding for more trade activities,” said the FSB. “Export support, including the advice of International Trade Advisors, should be targeted at the smallest business communities, who lack the resources of medium and large firms.”

According to the FSB’s figures since the end of the transition period, around 25 per cent of small exporters have either temporarily or entirely stopped exporting to the EU, with a further 21 per cent making similar considerations.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chair Mike Cherry, said: “Small exporters have had a difficult time due to the pandemic, ongoing supply chain issues, as well as adapting to the complications associated with the end of the transition period.

“This has left many facing rising costs, unsure of the future of their small firms and debating the best way to grow and nurture their businesses.

“Our report has highlighted some key areas which we hope DIT can act upon to positively help small firms who are either looking to begin their exporting journey, or to help current exporters to thrive.

“The inclusion of small business chapters in recent FTAs has been hugely welcome, and this must continue for all future agreements. But up to this point, we have found that fewer than a fifth of small firm exporters have made use of the preferential terms of access already available to them in FTAs.

“Rising costs, lack of resources and a simple lack of information about the advantages of these FTAs have left many in the dark or unable to reap the benefits of them. Which is why by offering more targeted support through Internal Trade Advisors and by working to promote these more, we should see an increased take up of small firms engaging with these preferential terms.

“By using the forthcoming Export Strategy to commit targeted support towards small and micro businesses, DIT can inject some much-needed energy into the exporters market. At the end of the day, the majority of businesses in the UK are small firms, and they are the backbone of our economy.

“It’s never been more important to ensure that small firms have the necessary support on hand to help them blossom, creating new opportunities for thousands of firms and contributing huge sums to the economy.”

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