The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has urged Britain to "completely reorient" its export strategy away from traditional customers in the US and Western Europe and towards emerging markets such as India and Brazil.
The employers' association said Britain stood to boost annual exports by up to £20bn by 2020 if it could harness the potential to sell high-quality products to burgeoning middle-class communities in the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
The CBI is also keen for Britain to target the "next 11" biggest emerging economies, including Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey, which are being pursued less aggressively than BRIC economies but are nonetheless growing rapidly.
Launching a joint report with Ernst & Young, the CBI director-general, John Cridland, outlined his hope that Britain could become the new Germany, calling on the Government to step up export finance and floating the idea of an export tax credit.
"The next decade could be ours ... We have the opportunity to supply emerging middle classes in China and other emerging markets with the goods they need," he said. "We can do ... what Germany did, in a different way, this decade ... although we haven't yet seized the opportunity and reoriented from the EU and the US to greater penetration of the emerging markets."
The report identified electrical and optical goods, construction, hi-tech products, telecoms, and financial services as the five most promising sectors for British exporters to exploit.
About 4 per cent of British exports now go to the BRIC countries, while 6 per cent go to our considerably smaller Irish neighbour. Some 11 per cent of German and US exports end up in the BRIC countries. The UK's biggest export market is the US, which accounts for 17 per cent of overseas sales.
However, Mr Cridland warned that Britain had its work cut out if it wanted to become a German-style export powerhouse and hit its 2020 target of £20bn, equivalent to a 1.5 per cent rise in GDP.
As Germany's share of a rising global export market increased between 2000 and 2010, from 8.9 per cent to 9.3 per cent, Britain's fell from 5.3 per cent to 4.1 per cent. Furthermore, while Germany's export credit agency offered €32.5bn (£27.8bn) of financial support to German companies last year, its British counterpart, the Export Credit Guarantee Department, provided just €3.3bn to UK plc.
Mr Cridland called for a "sea change in our export culture" and said he would set up an export finance taskforce to "explore ways of removing barriers to finance, reducing risk and the viability of introducing an export tax credit to incentivise exploratory export activity".
He said: "The UK has a proud history as a great trading nation, but in recent years our performance has been lacklustre. Exports success will be one of the key drivers of growth."
The other members of the "next 11" are Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam.Reuse content