Strategy & Leadership

Growth amid uncertainty: insights for international export success

September 13, 2023


Growth amid uncertainty: insights for international export success

September 13, 2023

Multiple contributor piece

This piece has been produced leveraging expertise from across our policy and insights team.

For full details of contributors please see bottom of the page.

Exporting is becoming increasingly complex. Driven by heightened geopolitical tensions and macroeconomic volatility, there is a risk of further global trade fragmentation, demand and supply side shocks and a more uncertain trading and economic environment for businesses.

Amid this backdrop, business is still positive about the outlook for trade and exports in 2023. A survey of global business leaders found that the primary drivers for export growth this year will come from ‘growing demand in key markets’ followed by ‘expansion of operations into new markets' [1], highlighting that business leaders see demand remaining resilient in 2023.

Export success not only helps businesses to grow, it also increases their productivity and profitability. Businesses that trade internationally are around 20% more productive than businesses that don’t [2]. Furthermore, businesses that export have been shown to grow at almost double the rate of those that  trade only domestically [3].

Exporting not only increases profitability, it also builds resilience through the diversification of markets. Together with price and delivery, resilience needs to be central to any exporting strategy. Businesses need to be confident they can meet consumer demand consistently, even when faced with supply-side shocks. Diversifying both import and export markets can help to achieve this.

Resilience is also built from forecasting potential risks and trade trends. For example, accepting a customer order with a long lead time may threaten profitability if the economic situation—unfavourable exchange rate fluctuations, for instance,  or higher shipping costs—declines  during the interim period. David Robinson, founder of Robinsons of England, stated that “[he] was getting orders in and by the time those orders were ready to deliver the shipping costs had spiked exponentially.”

Other trends, such as the rise in e-commerce, are also very important to consider, as statistics show that 80% of exporters generate orders through online channels [4].  Wider technological adoption beyond e-commerce, however,  is necessary to improve trade operations. Globally companies have and are adopting a wide variety of technology to ease the flow of trade. Digital platforms, to enable better B2B, were the most widely adopted technology prior to 2022 [5], yet are already forecast to be surpassed in 2023 by the adoption of advanced automation to improve efficiencies. This is followed by 3D printing to decentralise production and enhance product customisation and artificial intelligence to gain real-time insights and forecasts [6]. Philip Coward, chairman of The Hill Brush Company Ltd, recognises the importance of investing in the right technology as, over the last four years, his company has introduced technology to automate and streamline their internal systems. This imports orders received electronically directly into the ERP system and helps “marry up purchasing invoices with delivery notes which are all scanned into the system, making it easier and quicker for customers who are ordering and all the other processing.”

Beyond economic and technological exporting trends, businesses need to have a solid understanding of their export markets and associated consumer preferences and behaviour. As part of this research programme, Economist Impact has developed snapshots that focus on five regions of the world: Africa and the Middle East; Asia and the Pacific; Europe; North America; and South America. Each snapshot provides valuable insights into what businesses must do in their drive for greater exports.

Businesses need to weave these insights into their export strategies the better to manage evolving global risks and build success beyond their domestic borders.

John Ferguson
Head of globalisation, trade and finance
John is the head of Economist Impact’s globalisation, trade and finance practice. He is responsible for leading and developing the practice across different geographies and sectors, including both public and private organisations. As the global economy is being transformed by multiple forces including geopolitics, technological progress and climate change, the practice works with clients to navigate these structural shifts. A frequent public speaker, his delivery style helps to provide context to many global issues in an insightful and accessible way, supported by his 15 years in policy and economic analysis. Most recently, as Director of Macroeconomics, he was responsible for guiding The EIU’s global economic analysis across 200 countries. Prior to this, he was Director of Country Analysis and Global Forecasting. John holds a Master’s degree in International Economics from Sussex University where he specialised in macroeconomics and trade, and an Honours degree in Psychology from the Australian National University. Areas of expertise: globalisation, trade and finance; macroeconomics; geopolitics and international relations; The economics of climate change; developing economies; foreign direct investment and supply chains

Oliver Sawbridge

Manager, Policy and Insights

Oliver Sawbridge is a policy and insights manager at Economist Impact in its new globalisation practice, and is particularly responsible for research and analysis on international trade. As the global economy is being transformed by multiple forces including geopolitics, technological progress and climate change, the new globalisation practice works with clients to navigate these structural shifts.

His insights provide context and meaning in an accessible way. They are informed by numerous years of policy experience, most recently at the Department for International Trade, where he delivered aspects of Britain’s free-trade agreement programme. Before this he was a policy and legislative researcher at the House of Commons.

Mr Sawbridge holds a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Auckland. His areas of expertise include geopolitics, trade and supply chains.

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