Exporting is great for your business

Why your business should consider exporting

+ Barriers to exporting: What are the barriers that hinder SMEs from starting to export
+ Digital trade: Services exports are a major strength of the UK; can your business do more?
+ Export support Find out what government help is available in the UK Export Academy.
Graphic of shipping containers for exports in port

Discover the benefits of exporting

Whatever your opinion on the results of the EU referendum, there is no doubt that the landscape of international trade is going to change over the next few years.

In deciding to leave the EU the UK has set itself on a path to becoming more global in international trade.

So, what are the opportunities SMEs will have, what do they need to consider before exporting and what are the risks they will face?

UK - Trading with the rest of the world

Made in the UK, Sold to the World

A strategy to boost UK exports to £1 trillion a year

Following on from the 2018 Export Strategy, the government has set out a revised export plan to take account a raft of new Free Trade Agreements, a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific, and the final withdrawal from the EU.

In 2022, the UK exported £813 billion in goods and services and imported £898 billion. A deficit of £230 billion on trade in goods was offset by a £145 billion surplus on trade in services.  The UK had a trade deficit with the EU of £43 billion in 2021 and a surplus with the rest of the world of £15 billion.
Our future prosperity lies, in part, in exports. Exporting businesses are more competitive, pay higher wages and are more proftable. Global sales support local jobs. And international revenues boost the UK’s fnances, so that we can reinvest in public services. Our strategy will therefore support our wider aspirations as a nation. Working with exporters of digital, artifcial intelligence, shipbuilding and green goods and services will help realise our ambitions as a science and technology superpower and in the Net Zero transformation.

A 12-point export strategy

designed to give businesses the tools they need to become a nation of exporters
and reap the benefits of our free trade deals.

Export Support Service

Last month we launched the new ESS, our first ever end-to-end service to support businesses exporting to Europe. Over £45 million in funding has been awarded over the Spending Review 2021 period for the digital transformation of DIT’s export support services, delivered through an expansion of ESS to cover all markets.

Supporting exporters across all parts of the UK

In September we opened new offices in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a second DIT HQ in Darlington, with dedicated teams that for the first time will focus on extending the opportunities from the government’s international trade work across the UK, levelling up export growth and supporting jobs. This is historic.

Financial support for exporters

Through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Internationalisation Fund is providing 7,500 SMEs in England with financial assistance to export and internationalise. We will launch the UK SME Export Support Fund, to provide SMEs with financial assistance to internationalise.

UK Export Finance

Our world-leading export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF), will expand its products and delivery network to boost support to UK exporters and their overseas buyers.

Government-to-government partnerships

We will focus on strengthening a joint approach, connecting governments and business through our global networks.

UK Export Academy

We will extend the reach and range of our pilot Export Academy to offer bespoke training programmes and digital tools to help businesses navigate the technicalities of exporting and find opportunities overseas.

Our exporting networks across the UK

We will extend our community of Export Champions, ensuring businesses can build and learn from exporting successes through business-to-business networking and peer-to-peer learning.

Export Campaign - Made in the UK, Sold to the World

We will champion the government’s priority sectors through our innovative campaign Made in the UK, Sold to the World.

Piloting a new UK Tradeshow Programme

We are piloting our UK Tradeshow Programme (UKTP) to propel our efforts and promote Team UK at the world’s largest tradeshows.

Making exporting easier

We will put exporting at the heart of reforms to regulations, cross-government measures and regulatory diplomacy to help foster the conditions for exporting businesses to thrive.

Our global reach

We will utilise the UK government’s international teams based in over 180 global markets to provide sector and market specific support to innovative, high growth companies to help them grow internationally.

Opening markets worldwide

We will continue to open new markets for UK exporters through our new trade deals, with the ambition of covering 80% of UK trade by the end of 2022, and broader work to remove market access barriers.

Barriers to exporting


of SMEs say they lack the time or the resources to export.

Finance Risk

of SMEs say they use finance products to mitigate the risks of non-payment for exports.


of UK businesses turned down export trade due to fear of non-payment.

Building on the 2018 Export Strategy

The Export Strategy will be implemented in partnership with industry and regional and sectoral associations, and through the ecosystem of export facilitation, advisory and finance services. The government will continually seek to improve the service offer, providing:

Better Support

transforming our service offering to exporters, being
more joined up and more digital to reach SMEs at scale

Better access to finance

ensuring no viable export fails due to lack of finance or insurance

A better business environment

making it easier to export and raising the competitiveness of all UK exporters

Better data

harnessing new technologies and legal powers to target support, inform policy and identify export opportunities

Free for PREMIUM Members

BizEquals Protect

graphic showing BizEquals Protect worth up to £1,000

Premium members get:

4 Services - HR, Health & Safety, Legal, Tax
5 Advice LinesHR, Health & Safety, Legal, Tax & VAT
3 Document Libraries -
HR, Health and Safety, Legal, with nearly 800 free, downloadable templates

UK Export Academy

Giving businesses the know-how to export around the world by learning from experts
Register Here

Key facts:

The programme is designed for owners and senior managers of businesses with a turnover of up to £500,000, though bigger first-time exporters may be considered.

Over 18,000 businesses across the UK have already joined the FREE training programme.

Businesses will get:

  • An export action plan
  • Educational events, independent learning, networking, mentoring
  • Educational webinars covering key topics
  • Shared experience from other SMEs and Export Champions
  • Support from International Trade Advisers
  • Other DIT support such as joining trade missions, grants and funding
  • Referrals to specialist support

UK Export Academy

The Department for Business & Trade runs the UK Export Academy in order to get more small and micro-businesses exporting. It has been designed to encompass differing levels of export experience, allowing UK companies to overcome some of the common challenges faced when exporting.

Who is it for?
The UK Export Academy is open to any business in the UK that has a product or service that can be sold in international markets, whether they want to start exporting or expand into new markets.

What will your business get from the UK Export Academy?
Foundation course: Build your knowledge and confidence if you’re relatively new to selling internationally or interested in learning about how to start. You will leave the foundation course with an export action plan tailored to your business.
Sector faculties: Sector specific webinars, masterclasses and virtual missions. More experienced exporters can join sector faculties to provide your business with specific information to allow you to operate effectively in particular foreign markets or sectors.
Market access events: Learn about the benefits of new market opportunities, including the benefits of new free trade agreements.

Key numbers of the Export Strategy


expected % of global growth accounted for by the Indo-Pacific region by 2050.


of UK trade to be covered by existing and new trade agreements by end 2022.


of the world's 5.4 billion middle-class consumers are expected to be in Asia.


of global GDP will be in the services sector by 2030.

Digitalisation of Trade - easing the path to doing more business

The future of Digital Trade

To make sure our SMEs - the lifeblood of our economy - can feel the full benefit, helping them to grow and create jobs, we need to cut red tape. Digitalising trade, with a joined-up approach, will reduce these barriers and make it easier, faster and smoother than ever for them to do business.

The impact of digital technologies on the global economy has been huge.  UNCTAD estimated that the value of e-commerce sales reached almost $26 trillion in 2018, of which $21 billion was in B2B trade, comprising sales over online market platforms and electronic data transactions.

As a major exporter of services, the UK is well placed to benefit from the increasing digitalisation of trade. Over $200 billion of digitally delivered services were exported in 2019 according to the ONS. It is estimated that further digitalisation of trade could see trade costs fall by 80% and could generate an extra £25 billion of SME export growth.

According to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), trading across borders is currently a complex process that is highly dependent on paper documents. It assesses that a typical cross-border transaction involves multiple participants, requires the exchange of 36 documents and produces 240 copies.

In order for the UK to become a world leader in digital trading systems, the world's first centre dedicated to accelerating the digitalisation of international trade has been set up in the region. Co-ordinated by the ICC, the Tees Valley Mayor, the Tees Valley Combined Authority, industry, the government and a wide range of experts, the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation will provide a focus for efforts to develop technologies and approaches to unlock opportunities and remove unnecessary barriers.

Graphic of man holding a transparent globe

Digital Trade: Board of Trade

This Board of Trade report (November 2021) sets out the importance of digital trade, how it underpins much of the global trading system, and what the UK can do to remove barriers.
Find out more
Graphic of connections across Europe and Asia

World's first Digital Trade Centre

Based in the Tees Valley, the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation is industry-led and sets out to build and promote an open digital trade system based on international standards.
Find out more
Two men in hard hats working at port

A blueprint for UK Digital Trade

In order to ensure that the UK continues to develop and deepen it's digital trade this report by TechUK proposes that future agreements should be based on 14 key principles in 5 areas.
Find out more

The increasing importance of Digital Trade

The UK's Digital Trade

Digital trade has become increasingly important in the modern world, and the United Kingdom is a leader in this area. With a share of 42.5%, the potential for digital delivery of services exports in the UK is one of the highest amongst OECD countries, significantly surpassing the OECD average of 33%. The UK's financial services sector has a particularly high share of digital exports, with 24% of financial services exports being delivered digitally. This is a much larger share than other leading countries in this area, such as Switzerland (17%) and the United States (14%), and puts the UK at the forefront of digital trade.

While the UK excels in the potential for digital delivery of services, it lags behind in the actual digital trade related to charges for intellectual property use not included elsewhere or telecommunications, computer, and information services. This is below the OECD average and significantly lower than in the best-performing countries, indicating that there is room for improvement in this area.

Experimental data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides complementary information on the actual digital delivery of services. The data shows that remote supply, or mode 1, accounted for 65% of services exported via modes 1, 2, and 4, and 22% of services supplied through all modes. Additionally, approximately 55% of trade in services was estimated to be imported (excluding mode 3) by remote means. The top three services that had the highest proportion of imports supplied remotely were intellectual property (95%), telecommunications (83%), and transportation (80%).

The United Kingdom has a significant potential for digital delivery of services exports, particularly in the financial services sector. However, there is room for improvement in the actual digital trade related to certain services. The ONS experimental data shows that remote supply is a key driver of digital trade, indicating the importance of digital infrastructure and technological capabilities in facilitating the digital delivery of services.


November 2021
Graphic map of the world showing trade connections between countries

Modes of supply for Services

According to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), there are four modes of supply for trade in services.

Mode 1 involves cross-border supply, where a service is produced in one country but consumed in another.

Mode 2 refers to the consumption of services abroad, where the consumer or their property are abroad when the service is supplied.

Mode 3 involves commercial presence, where a service supplier establishes a presence abroad to provide services.

Mode 4 is the presence of natural persons, where an individual is present abroad to provide a commercial service.
The UK has left the EU

The UK has left the EU

Explore the new rules for
businesses and citizens
Find Out More

The UK has left the EU

The UK has left the EU
Explore the new rules for
businesses and citizens
Find Out More

Steps your business should take to trade abroad under the new rules

"... trade is no longer limited to just big firms, or medium-sized firms. You can be a small firm, three to five people, based here, and you can sell around the world. And that is increasingly going to be the case."

Mark Carney

World Economic Forum/swiss-image.ch

Mark Carney
Former Governor of the Bank of England

Potential Export Growth

A recent report Opportunity and challenges for SME exporters, January 2021, has been commissioned by Sage and prepared and published by Capital Economics. Their research suggested that there were 375,000 SMEs who have exportable goods or services but were not currently exporting. Using average turnover per employee in each sector, they estimated that export revenues had the potential to rise by £290bn a year. 

As this represents a doubling of the current level of exports, it is unlikely to be achieved in the short term. However, if sufficient barriers can be removed to achieve a 10% rise in exports, this additional £29bn in revenue would support 210,000 jobs and would be equivalent to the turnover of  around 50,000 SMEs.

SME Exporters under pressure

A recent survey by the British Chambers of Commerce in January 2023  of more than 2,300 UK SME exporters has revealed that most small and medium-sized enterprise exporters report no improvement to exports, with 27% reporting decreased export sales in the quarter and 47% reporting no change.

Only 26% of SME exporters saw increased export sales. The picture for future orders is even weaker, with 28% reporting a decrease against 24% an increase. Energy, labour, and raw materials are the three biggest cost pressures for SME exporters.

£290 billion

Estimated potential rise in exports, per year
We are at a major turning point for the UK economy on the global stage. But, we need to move quickly to give SMEs the confidence to capitalise on the trading opportunities after Brexit – incentivising digitisation to give businesses the platforms to serve customers across the globe.
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Save your business Time and Money

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that can help it grow and be more productive.

Explore the Digital Office Marketplace

Encouraging more businesses to export more is recognised as vital to the UK's future growth and prosperity. Just over 10% of businesses currently export but goods-exporting businesses are, on average, 21% more productive.

Why not explore our Export pages?


Find out why exporting helps your company grow


How to research and assess a new export market


How to assess your competition


Links to export advice, country research and partners

UK Export Finance: Guide for exporters seeking trade finance

Considering Export Finance

When you are considering exporting, one thing you need to work out is how to plan the financial side of things. Not only do you take on the extra risk of shipping goods to customers with whom you may not have had a previous relationship, you also have to incur a delayed payment to take account of the longer time to delivery. Local payment terms may typically be longer than in the UK as well. There is also the currency risk to consider.

Export finance providers help businesses overcome the financial challenges of exporting in a variety of ways. They can help release capital tied up in your overseas orders and provide risk protection with insurance against non-payment by your overseas buyers.

There are many providers who provide finance options and to ensure that companies can access sufficient funds, the government also provides partial guarantees (typically 80% of the risk) to third-party lenders to provide export working capital facilities.

UK Export Finance

UK Export Finance is the UK's export credit agency, designed to ensure that no viable UK export fails for lack of finance or insurance.

We work with over 100 private credit insurers and lenders to help UK companies access export finance (the particular class of loans, insurance policies or bank guarantees that enable international trade to take place as easily and securely as possible). We exist to complement, not compete with, the private sector.

We help UK companies to:

  • win export contracts by providing attractive financing terms to their buyers
  • fulfil contracts by supporting working capital loans
  • get paid by insuring against buyer default

We can support exports for any size of company and across all sectors, from capital goods to services and intangibles such as intellectual property.

UK Export Finance (UKEF) provided £12.3 billion in support for UK exports from 2020-2021, almost treble the amount provided in the previous financial year, and is estimated to have supported up to 107,000 UK jobs and helped to keep UK businesses and key industries afloat.

Through the Temporary Covid Risk Framework UKEF provided £7.3 billion in support to exporters who were severely disrupted by the pandemic, securing up to 71,000 UK jobs at major firms like Nissan, easyJet and British Airways that may otherwise have been lost.


the number of countries UKEF helped British businesses expert to in 2021/22.


of businesses supported were SMEs.


number of jobs supported in the UK,
How much do you know about the WTO graphic

How much do you know about the
World Trade Organisation?


WTO: the operator of a global system of trade rules

Following the ending of the Second World War, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was set up in 1948. It was designed to ensure that global trade was conducted in a more orderly fashion following the collapse of trade in the 1930's. It was also meant to ensure that trade disputes and (lack of) market access were no longer seen as a reason to go to war.

Since it was set up, global export volumes have increased dramatically, rising from less than 5% of global output in 1948 to more than 30% today. As the global economy developed and more complex, the fact that GATT mainly dealt in goods became a hindrance. In 1995, the WTO was set up to cover trade in services and intellectual property, as well as trade in goods. Importantly, it also created new procedures to allow the resolution of trade disputes.

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Complexity made simple

Currently, the WTO has 164 members, of which 117 are developing markets or separate customs territories. Together, these countries are responsible for around 95% of world trade. It is located in Geneva, Switzerland. Perhaps somewhat unusually, decisions are taken by consensus of the entire membership. The essential purpose of WTO is to provide a forum for negotiating agreements that reduce barriers to trade and that also provide a level playing field for all. It provides the legal framework for implementation and monitoring as well as the mechanisms to settle any disputes that arise from these agreements.

The agreements are generally pretty lengthy and, because they are legal documents covering a large number of areas, they can be highly complex. Underpinning all the agreements, however, are six basic principles:

WTO - six basic principles


With a few exceptions, no country should discriminate between one trading partner and another, nor between its own products, services and citizens and those of other countries.

Making trade more open by reducing obstacles such as customs duties (tariffs), import bans, quotas or other restrictive measures.

A key ingredient of investment and trade is stability, along with predictability. Reducing the arbitrary raising of trade barriers helps job creation and consumer confidence.

Countries can be tempted to try to protect their own markets and producers through measures such as export subsidies and dumping products on to international markets at below cost to boost or maintain market share. WTO rules try to establish whether something is fair or not and how best governments can respond.

As more than 75% of WTO members are classified as developing, it is important to allow those economies time to adjust to market economies. WTO can permit them greater flexibility and even special privileges to aid transition.

As long as countries apply measures equally to domestic and foreign companies, members are permitted to introduce measures to protect the environment, along with public health and animal and plant health.

Union Jack - WTO UK Trade profile
European Flag: WTO EU trade profile

The UK's WTO schedules

The UK has been a member of WTO in its own right since 1 January 1995 and was a co-founder of GATT, along with 22 other countries, in January 1948. 

Having left the EU, the UK has submitted its own set of 'schedules' at WTO. These are a series of commitments that set the terms of tariffs, quotas and any limits on subsidies. For Goods the schedule includes commitments under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and its schedule of commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Map of UK covered with Union Jack

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