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Despite rapid approach of Brexit, UK SMEs are failing to go global


11 Jul 2018


UK in Europe
  • More than a quarter (26%) of UK small businesses (SMEs) are not participating in international trade
  • In the run up to Brexit, 46% of UK SMEs feel more information and support on potential opportunities would encourage them to participate in international trade and 41% feel the Government securing new trade deals would.
  • Compared to counterparts in other markets, UK SMEs are more likely to export internationally (64%), but less likely to be establishing foreign operations (15%)

As the Government enters the final months of Brexit preparations, it’s more imperative than ever that UK small businesses utilise available support and finance to internationalise.

Growing globally, a report from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) surveyed small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) and accounting practices around the world - and found that a quarter of UK small businesses are not currently participating in international trade.

“Internationalisation can potentially bring a range of growth benefits for both a small business and the broader economy, whilst also driving productivity. This is just one of the reasons that providing the required support for UK small businesses to successfully enter international markets has been such a major priority in Brexit preparations,” explained Ben Baruch, head of SME policy at ACCA.

“It is positive to see that UK small businesses are more likely to export internationally (64%) than their counterparts in Malaysia and major trading hub Singapore (both 43%) – perhaps this has been helped by recent government efforts like the Department of International Trade’s Exporting is Great initiative.

“However, it is clear that more can be done to support UK small business, with more than a quarter not participating at all in international trade, and only two thirds (69%) intending to increase their international trade activities in the coming years – a low percentage compared to other countries like Ireland (84%), Malaysia (77%) and Singapore (76%).”

The report identified that the most significant barriers preventing UK SMEs from participating in international trade is knowledge and understanding of foreign regulations (45%) and foreign customs duties/ tariffs (30%). Identifying customers in international markets (26%) and foreign exchange (26%) also represented significant challenges to small businesses.

“It’s imperative that UK policymakers find ways to address this problem in the coming months if UK businesses are to remain competitive in the global market after we exit the European Union,” added Baruch.

“Almost half (46%)  of our small business respondents said that they would benefit from more information and support on international trade, and only 6% said that they intended to access external export finance – perhaps indicating a need to increase awareness around relevant UK Export Finance initiatives.

“With less than 9 months to go until March 2019, it is even more imperative that UK business has more certainty and stability around post-Brexit planning. 41% of respondents said that the Government securing improved or new trade agreements would encourage them to participate in international trade.”

The report also provides some recommendations for small businesses looking to expand their international capability, including embracing cloud technologies, developing the scalability of the finance function, creating a business strategy with global ambitions and identifying where external advice could support internationalisation.

“Accountants – and particularly small-to-medium sized practices (SMPs). which we focus on in Growing globally – are one of the most useful resources for supporting small businesses across all of these areas,” concluded Baruch.

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For media enquiries, contact:

Adele Gilbert, ACCA Newsroom
T: +44 (0)20 7059 5077
M: +44 (0)7753 242 464


About the survey

Separate international trade surveys targeting SMEs and SMPs were drafted for this project and were in the field for approximately one month from March 2018. The call for participants resulted in samples of 510 SME respondents and 398 SMP respondents. These samples were predominantly made up of ACCA members but were also complemented by an external survey panel run by Borderless Access, a global digital MR solutions company.

About ACCA

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global body for professional accountants, offering business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management.

ACCA supports its 200,000 members and 486,000 students in 180countries, helping them to develop successful careers in accounting and business, with the skills required by employers. ACCA works through a network of 101 offices and centres and more than 7,200 Approved Employers worldwide, who provide high standards of employee learning and development. Through its public interest remit, ACCA promotes appropriate regulation of accounting and conducts relevant research to ensure accountancy continues to grow in reputation and influence.

ACCA is currently introducing major innovations to its flagship qualification to ensure its members and future members continue to be the most valued, up-to-date and sought-after accountancy professionals globally.

Founded in 1904, ACCA has consistently held unique core values: opportunity, diversity, innovation, integrity and accountability. More information is here:


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