By Daniel Hunter

The fourth DHL/BCC (British Chambers of Commerce) Trade Confidence Index, a measure of the UK’s exporting health, reveals that exporters in the UK have seen increases in exporting activity over the first quarter of the year, with many businesses expecting the trend to continue in Q2 2012.

The index, which draws upon a survey of over a thousand exporters and an analysis of export documentation (required of all UK companies exporting goods outside the EU), shows that export orders and sales have increased over the last quarter.

Trade documentation data for UK goods exports in Q1 2012 shows an almost eight percent increase (7.7%) on the same quarter last year, demonstrating that growth in export goods continued.

When asked about export activity over the last three months, 40% of businesses said they had seen an increase in export sales. When asked with regards to expected export activity, 39% reported an increase in export orders for the next quarter.

The survey series shows that many exporters found last year challenging, with high input prices for oil and other commodities hammering many firms. However, the survey for the first quarter of this year shows that the price pressures are easing, and this combined with lower inflation could make it an easier year for many exporters.

The balance of firms reporting increases in export sales (over the last three months) and export orders (for the next three months) rose to levels last seen in Q4 2010. While it would be too rash to draw the conclusion that the UK economy is now firmly on the path to recovery, the data is encouraging, and shows that many exporters are more confident in 2012 than they were the previous year.

“At the end of 2011, there was a huge amount of uncertainty surrounding the eurozone sovereign debt crisis and its impact on UK firms," John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said.

"But the beginning of 2012 saw some semblance of calm retuning which has translated into greater confidence and activity among UK exporters. Export orders and sales have risen strongly in Q1, and documentation returns are the highest on record. While it is too early to say this represents the start of a strong recovery, it’s fair to say that it is a reason to be optimistic - in particular contrast to some of the most recent economic data.

“Exports are vital to the rebalancing of the UK economy, which is why it’s crucial that we support firms looking to trade internationally. We must maintain the UK’s position as a strong trading nation. So making sure our business owners and exporters of the future are well-equipped with the right skills is key. Only by looking at international trade from every possible angle now will we have the building blocks for a vibrant exporting community in the future.”

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