Dan Macdonald: Scotland must work to match growth

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This week we produced our latest report focusing on how Scotland boosts its level of exports. Its findings show that there is much work to be done if we are to match the trade levels and thereby the economic growth rates of other small wealthy economies.

As a nation on the fringes of Europe we have a long-established trading history in which the port of Leith has played a major part. And we have enjoyed existing competitive advantages in sectors including oil and gas, high-quality food and drink, education, tourism and the creative industries.

Trade is an important driver of economic growth and small wealthy economies such as Scotland tend to trade more than larger ones, such as the UK. Our continual benchmarking with the rest of the UK, however, means the economic opportunities associated with a growth in trade are being missed. Notably we are under-performing when compared with small wealthy economies which, due to higher levels of trade, are growing faster economically than we are.

A greater focus on increasing Scottish exports will not only boost economic growth, but could increase Scotland’s total trade by over £77 billion, matching that of other small wealthy economies. Such an increase will require the Scottish Government and business sector to work closely together on delivering an export-based economic growth strategy, echoing the example set by the likes of Denmark, New Zealand and Ireland.

Key features of an export-oriented growth strategy should include the delivery of a strong Scottish national brand, learning from best practice elsewhere, including the likes of New Zealand and Singapore, as well as targeted tax breaks in areas where Scotland has existing strengths, such as oil and gas and food and drink.

We also need to build on and address perceived weaknesses in infrastructure and global connections, including developing airport hub services and international freight ports. Continued access to global markets is critical, with Scotland’s continued membership of the European Union providing the easiest access to markets. In addition to this, an application to join the Nordic Council will ensure Scotland can participate in joint initiatives, such as the Green Growth Strategy, currently being developed. As a nation we must broaden our horizons and look beyond the UK to learn from the success stories of other countries when it comes to developing an export-based growth strategy.

Dan Macdonald is founder of the N-56 business forum