More Midlands companies experienced export growth to Europe than market shrinkage in the past 12 months, a survey has shown.
According to the British Chambers of Commerce International Trade Survey, 25% of Midlands firms that took part in the survey reported that they’d seen growth in sales to Western Europe compared with 18% that reported a decline.
And 19% of firms reported growth in sales to Central and Eastern Europe compared with 12% that said sales had fallen.
Net export sales growth was also recorded for China (8%), India (5%), Australasia (10%), Middle East & North Africa (3%) and North America (14%).
But for many of the 388 Midlands firms that completed the survey, of which 186 were exporters, the outcome of Brexit talks was seen as a potential risk to continuing to trade with the EU, with 43% saying they were concerned about tariffs and 36% worrying about customs barriers.
A similar picture emerged when it came to import purchases. Work permits and visas were a worry for 11% of respondents and 8% were concerned about having access to foreign workers.
Over a quarter (27%) of firms said they did not foresee any significant barriers to international trade while 38% said they had already started or planned in the future to revise growth strategies.
However, 41% of respondents said they expected their costs to slightly increase in the next 12 months as a result of the devaluation in sterling, with 27% saying they expected significant increases.
Only 5% of firms expected their costs to slightly decrease, with 2% expecting a significant decrease.
The survey also found that many businesses trading abroad were leaving themselves exposed to currency fluctuations, with nearly half (45%) of Midlands firms not taking proactive steps to manage currency risk.
Chris Hobson, Director of Policy at East Midlands Chamber, which was one of six Midlands Chambers’ members included in the survey and which together make up the Midlands Policy Group, said: “The findings highlight the extent to which the depreciation in sterling is expected to compound the price pressures on firms, underlining the need to ease the domestic cost of doing business.
“There is also a clear need for more support and information for exporting businesses on the importance of managing currency risk.”
He added: “April marks the start of the financial year in which we are due to formally leave the EU and we know that many businesses have not yet made any provision or plans for trading post-Brexit. This may be because there has been so little information about what sort of deal we’ll have, but firms shouldn’t just sit back and wait for Brexit to happen to them, they need to have contingency plans and they need to start pulling them together now.”