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Cable promises help as exporters feel the strain

Plans announced by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, to boost exports and help smaller businesses to find markets abroad were welcomed yesterday by both employer groups and Labour.

In a statement to the Commons to publish the Trade and Investment White Paper, Mr Cable said that Britain had "consumed too much and exported too little".

He added: "Trade and inward investment are key drivers of growth. They are fundamental to rebuilding and rebalancing our economy. Encouraging small businesses to export more is at the heart of that."

Mr Cable's initiative came as the Office for National Statistics unveiled the worst current-account deficit in five years – £4.8bn in December alone.

As part of its over-arching aim to rebalance the economy, the Government plans to offer small and medium-sized enterprises improved access to trade finance, insurance and advice.

Ministers also intend to lobby the EU for lighter regulation and the completion of the single market, to campaign for the stalled Doha international trade talks, and to provide a new online service to provide sales leads around the world.

Mr Cable also said the UK Trade and Investment agency, whose budget is to be cut by a fifth, will try to do more with less. The trade minister Stephen Green added the Government's export-credit agency would offer small companies trade financing for the first time since the early 1990s – a move designed to reduce a competitive disadvantage suffered by British firms compared with European rivals.

Ministers will also hope their White Paper will appease critics such as the previous and current directors-general of the CBI, Sir Richard Lambert and John Cridland, who have castigated the Government for failing to develop a growth policy. Yesterday, the CBI was more sympathetic.

Mr Cridland said: "The new Export Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme and other new forms of financial support are good news for business, and long overdue.

"They will help UK companies step up export activity, which is vital to deliver private sector growth and drive the recovery".

But the British Chambers of Commerce's Adam Marshall added: "Even with these improvements, the British Government still does not offer the same level of support to small and medium-sized exporters as some of our major competitor countries.

"Ministers need to announce practical measures to help small companies across the UK realise that exporting could be their path to growth, and at the same time, ensure that we're promoting British innovation and ingenuity in fast-growing markets overseas."

For the opposition, the shadow Business Secretary John Denham offered qualified support for the proposals.