Shipping container London Gateway
A shipping container is moored at London Gateway port as UK exports falter. Reuters

Chancellor George Osborne has announced a £45m package to boost exports.

In his Autumn Statement, he said that the money would be used to connect British exporters with fast-growing emerging market economies and to support first time exporters.

The £45m comes in two components. The first is a £20m package of support for first time exporters, which will include:

  • an increase in UKTI's regional network of International Trade Advisors to help an extra 6,000 companies per year who have not exported before
  • tailored support to help 5,000 companies per year access new markets through the internet
  • funding for a global events programme to double the attendance at international exhibitions by SMEs with UKTI support to 60,000

The second component is a £25m programme called "surge for growth", which in itself is broken down into two packages. £22m will be used to support projects in emerging economies in which UK exporters are participating. The other £3m will support "further reducing trade barriers with North American and European trading partners".

The Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said that the Autumn Statement failed to deliver serious support for exporters. He said that Britain is the sixteenth best performing exporter in the G20 and the twenty-second of 28 European economies.

While the economy has been out-growing most of its peers, the recovery has been wholly domestic – trade is actually acting as a drag on the economy.

In the third quarter of 2014, Britain's trade deficit widened from £8.9bn in the second quarter to £11.2bn.

The problems in the eurozone, which is the UK's biggest trading partner, are forecast to continue so trade may continue to suffer, despite a relatively weak pound (which makes exports cheaper to overseas buyers).

The exports picture makes it almost certain that the government will not meet the lofty targets Osborne set for UK trade. In 2011, he set the objective of doubling exports to £1tn by 2020 and by adding 500,000 new exporters to the economy.

Industry figures and business leaders had been calling on the Chancellor to use his Autumn Statement to launch decisive policy action to improve the UK's anaemic exports performance.

Simon Collins, the UK chairman of KPMG, said: "Exports are vital to the long-term, sustainable growth of UK business. To support UK exports, I would like to see a package of measures, including improving visa rules; continued focus by UKTI on international trade, including ministerial trade missions, and further extending of help to medium-sized businesses."

The EEF – Britain's manufacturing association – had called on the Chancellor to cut corporation tax and safeguard funding for research and development.