By Jonathan Davies

The UK's trade deficit widened to £2.9 billion in February, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It compares with a deficit of just £1.5bn in January.

The ONS said the UK had a £10.3bn deficit on goods, partly offset by a £7.5 surplus on services.

The widening is largely as a result of falling exports, particularly goods to non-EU countries - especially the US.

Looking at the three months to the end of February paints a more positive picture. The trade deficit closed by £0.4bn to £6.5bn, thanks to an increase in exports to non-EU countries.

The ONS also reported that the deficit of goods between the UK and EU reached a record high of £21.1bn in the three months. It was largely was a result of a 6.5% fall in exports.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the figures show that businesses still need support when it comes to exporting.

John Allan, FSB national chair, said: “Despite recent positive signs from the UK’s trade deficit, there has been little indication of sustained improvement in overall export performance. This is partly due to challenging conditions in key export markets such as Europe, but it underlines why supporting businesses to export, particularly in emerging markets, must remain at the forefront of policy thinkers’ minds.

“Whoever forms the next Government must think about how they will help business to find new markets overseas. Support needs to be coherent and link with other advice and training, matching the ambition of our start-ups and small firms that want to grow and develop into the British success stories of the future.

“Businesses of all sizes need to be at the centre of any export strategy. The new Government should take a long-term approach towards funding for support to provide stability and certainty for businesses who are seeking advice and assistance.”