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Business leaders urge caution as HMRC publishes latest statistics on international trade

HM Revenue & Customs has released its international trade statistics for the first quarter of 2019 this week (June 6).

The regional findings show that the North East has increased its exports to the rest of the world but key figures from the local business community argue that the future remains uncertain.

Analysis conducted by the North East Chamber of Commerce shows that exports are up 7.3 per cent on the quarter and 4.2per cent on the year. The positive result is said to be fuelled by 12per cent growth in European markets and 4.7per cent in North American markets.

In cash terms, Q1 saw exports of £3.5 billion, whilst imports spiked to £3.8bn, yielding a trade balance of -£274 million.

Jack Simpson, policy adviser at the Chamber, believes that growing Brexit uncertainty could be to blame for the increase in imports.

He said: “Growing Brexit uncertainty could explain the sharp rise in imports as businesses began stockpiling vital products, bracing for a worst-case scenario.

“The North East continues to outperform the rest of the country but is under threat by political instability. Brexit is a prime concern for global business, but issues around skills, investment and transport have been left by the wayside during the Brexit impasse. A swift and acceptable Brexit outcome is needed, so we can focus on how to develop our Global North East.

“The EU continues to grow as the region’s top export destination and this data should act as a reminder to those in Westminster how important it is, especially to the North East, to deliver a deal that preserves our trading relationship with our biggest and most important market.

“We have so many great and innovative businesses in our region and I am confident that, with the right support and conditions, these figures can grow further.”

Michael McMeekin, North East area leader at the Federation of Small Businesses, added: “In what is a challenging environment for small firms, it’s good to see that both imports and exports in the North East are continuing to rise.

“But uncertainty for the future regarding the trading arrangement that the country will have when it leaves the EU means that many small firms are still unsure as to what environment they’ll be facing in the months to come.”