British businesses are eyeing up overseas markets as Brexit paves the way for new global trade deals and the coronavirus hammers the UK economy, according to a survey.
A poll of business leaders shared exclusively with Yahoo Finance UK saw 45% report that COVID-19 had shown they were “too reliant” on one market for revenue.
Some 57% said they were now looking for new opportunities abroad to alleviate the damage from the pandemic. More than a quarter said they had made staff redundant, and almost half had furloughed workers.
The poll by Opinium for global logistics firm One World Express comes as Brexit talks hit the headlines once again and MPs debate the UK government’s post-Brexit trade bill on Wednesday.
Brexit gives Britain the power to set trade policies independently of the EU for the first time in decades. The new legislation includes plans to ‘roll over’ Britain’s existing global trade deals signed as part of the EU, though negotiations with some countries are ongoing.
It would also set up a new government department to take over certain EU trade powers, such as protecting UK firms from unfair global competition or ‘dumping.’
Ministers are hopeful of striking new trade deals with the US and other countries, though they typically take years and many firms’ biggest concern is slow progress reaching an EU deal.
Half of the survey respondents said such global trade agreements, which typically reduce the cost and complexity of selling abroad, were a key consideration in identifying where to export.
READ MORE: UK unveils new post-Brexit tariff regime
Some believe the pandemic is pushing against globalisation however, encouraging governments to protect domestic firms and companies to shore up domestic supply chains.
But the latest survey underlines how the pandemic has already forced firms to reshape their operations in radical ways, with 43% adapting their products or services. A quarter of the 924 leaders surveyed said they had begun selling to different kinds of customers.
Atul Bhakta, CEO of One World Express, said diversification was a wise response. “At a time when the world has been turned upside down, it is unwise for business leaders to believe they can simply “keep calm and carry on,” he said.
“Any business that sells to a broader range of markets is giving itself the best possible chance to succeed.”
But half of business leaders surveyed said a lack of knowledge prevented them considering new global opportunities. Only a third were aware of UK government support for exports, and 40% said selling abroad would be too costly or difficult for their firms.