How Might Brexit Affect SMEs Who Export Or Import?

This blog post has been written by William Barns-Graham, Digital Content Editor at our partner Open to Export, which helps SMEs exporting from the UK to grow internationally.

Image of map of UK and EuropeMuch has been written and said about the importance for UK businesses to export more – both before and after the EU referendum last year. The reality that the UK will need to decrease its trade deficit has particularly hit hard since the pound weakened following the Brexit decision last year – while importing UK goods has become more attractive overseas, many UK exporters have international supply chains which are now becoming more costly. Actually closing the deficit is obviously much more difficult than mere pledges and pleas, especially as it will require cultural and professional shifts in how our businesses – both large and small – think about international trade.

The Institute of Export and International Trade, to demonstrate this point, recently reported that the number of shipments into and out of the UK that are classed as exports or imports is set to rise from 90 million to 300 million a year, following Brexit. Leaving the customs union could potentially create masses of paperwork for businesses selling into Europe because the movement of these goods will no longer be ‘free’ as such, but could be subject to the same rules that goods coming into Europe from, say, the Philippines are.

Put simply, we don’t really know what the terms of selling and importing goods in and from Europe are going to be going forward and this creates a lot of uncertainty for business. Given that UK businesses have been able to move goods around the EU for decades through EU rules, learning and complying with new World Trade Organisation or Free Trade Agreements (FTA) rules could be a costly and time consuming task – a task that smaller businesses in particular could struggle with.

Of course, things could also become a lot simpler for trading with the rest of the world as the UK will be able to negotiate its own FTAs independent from the EU. But what is certain is that there is going to be a lot of change in the coming years that UK businesses are going to have to find a way to navigate.

The impact of this could be significant – especially as it all comes at a time at which UK SMEs are starting to find their feet when it comes to exporting. WorldFirst recently reported that over 1.5 million UK SMEs are now involved in international trade, contributing £78bn in imports and exports per month.

Information and planning is key

Key to navigating these uncertain times is information and awareness. Exporting is always full of challenges – from translating your marketing to actually getting paid – and the companies that make a profit doing it are the ones that continuously learn and up-skill to meet these challenges head-on.

There is of course a wide array of resources available to businesses to help do this. We at Open to Export pride ourselves on being a useful first point of call for SMEs looking to gather accessible information quickly. We try to take exporters along a journey from ‘Getting started’ to ‘Delivery and documentation’, helping you to see exporting as a bigger picture while making each step in the journey as easy to approach and understand as possible.

Being organised and keeping a structured plan is also a great way to approach the challenges of exporting, which is why we created our Export Action Plan tool which asks you questions along each of the export steps to ensure you don’t forgo any of the pertinent tasks or processes you have to go through when looking to expand internationally.

The government is continually trying to increase awareness of the opportunities in exporting with its Exporting is GREAT campaign, while chambers across the country, and bilateral chambers around the world, are always on hand to give advice and information to companies looking to enter new markets.

Exporting as a professional skill

The Institute of Export and International Trade is also well worth considering for any business or professional who wants to really up-skill and become a specialist in trade. Their broad range of affordable professional qualifications and training courses – ranging from Masters degrees to one off courses – are a great investment for any business who really want to go to the next level in internationalising their business.

While there is plenty of information and support available to businesses, taking the time to really learn all aspects of international trade can help businesses and individuals to really face the challenges of exporting by themselves, saving money and time in the long run.

Challenge accepted

Although the international climate for trade is more uncertain than it has been in a long while, the reality is that businesses around the world want to do business with each other. Yes, exporting can be challenging, but the potential rewards – both financial and personal – of meeting partners and reaching customers on a global scale are massive.


If you’d like any more information or help with exporting, feel free to contact Willliam Barns-Graham at Open to Export by email here.