Latest Santander Trade Barometer reveals UK companies’ reliance on international markets as companies look overseas for growth

  • Business sentiment is on the rise despite economic headwinds, with over a quarter (28%) of UK businesses considering international expansion, the highest level since Spring 2022
  • Almost half (47%) say international trade is increasingly important  

  • 74% of internationally aspiring businesses feel increasing pressure to meet ESG requirements, while 78% have a clear ESG strategy in place to drive their growth 

  • More than one third (35%) are calling for greater support from government and third parties to navigate bureaucracy and regulatory requirements overseas 

The latest findings from the Santander Trade Barometer1 indicate almost a third (28%) of UK companies now expect more than half their revenue to come from international markets in the next 12 months. That figure has doubled in the last two years. 

Despite prevailing economic headwinds, over a quarter (28%) of domestic businesses are considering expansion in the next three years – the highest level in four waves of the Trade Barometer. This is in line with broader global trends, with many businesses in the U.S. (47%), Spain (35%) and Poland (39%) also weighing up expansion overseas.  

Almost a third (30%) of the UK businesses surveyed in Spring 2024 said they are very confident their business will grow in the next three years, up from 22% in Autumn 2023. Overall, three in four businesses say they are confident about future growth prospects.  

Internationally aspiring businesses appear to be ahead of the curve when it comes to putting ESG front and centre in their business plans and activity, with almost three in four (74%) stating that there is growing pressure from customers to meet ESG requirements, while similar numbers (78%) said that their business has a clear ESG strategy in place.  

Jane Galvin, Head of Corporate Clients, Santander UK, said: “The latest wave of the Santander Trade Barometer shows that despite a spate of economic challenges, UK businesses are increasingly optimistic about their growth potential. Businesses are embracing ESG considerations as integral to their strategies, reflecting a broader shift towards sustainable practices, an encouraging sign for the future of our economy.” 

International growth opportunities versus other markets 

When looking at business confidence in international trade, the UK pulls ahead when compared to other markets, with 28% of international trading businesses expecting more than half their revenue to come from international trade over the next year. This is compared to 25% in Spain, 20% in the USA, and 17% in Poland. 

Currently, the UK stands out as one of the top destinations for trade according to 47% of U.S. businesses, second only to Canada (50%). A further 39% of U.S. firms identified the UK as the main growth opportunity over the next 12 months.  

For UK companies, the U.S. (35%) remains the top destination for future growth, followed by Canada (21%), Australia (21%), and Germany (20%), UAE (16%), France (15%) and China (12%) – with EU countries dropping down the table again this wave. 

Businesses in Spain see neighbouring France (19%) as the biggest growth opportunity, followed by the U.S. (19%) and Germany (15%). In Poland, businesses see Germany and the UAE (17%) as primary growth opportunities, with the U.S. following closely at 14%. 

The economic backdrop 

Despite the surge in confidence, challenges remain. Inflation is still the single greatest economic challenge for UK business, with 48% of UK businesses stating that it is currently a risk for business growth in their organisation, compared to 40% in the USA 40%, 37% in Spain, and 47% in Poland.  

Inflationary costs linked to staffing and salaries persist, with 4 of the top 5 business risks identified in the survey being directly cost related. Businesses highlighted energy prices (30%), high interest rates (cost of servicing debt) (25%), and the cost of moving goods more generally (22%) among the greatest risks to their business growth in the current market environment. 

Against this backdrop, almost half (47%) say that international trade is of increasing importance – more than double the number saying this in Autumn 2021. However, when looking to the future, UK businesses see inflationary pressures as temporary and are optimistic about inflation dampening in the next 12 months. 

‘Nearshoring’ and supply chain resilience  

An increasing number of firms are putting an emphasis on gaining insight into their supply chains, with a greater desire for transparency (55%) and validating processes (46%) – both drivers up more than 10 percentage points compared to the previous wave of the Trade Barometer. 

The Barometer shows that there is a notable trend of 'reshoring,' with roughly a third (30%) of UK businesses already having plans to move (14%) or have moved their supply chains closer to the UK (16%) to enhance resilience and mitigate geopolitical risk. A further one in five businesses (22%) already have their supply chains close to the UK. 

Currently, almost one quarter (23%) of UK businesses with supply chain dependencies in China are actively pursuing reshoring strategies. This shift underscores the importance of supply chain resilience in today's uncertain geopolitical landscape and reflects a strategic response to mitigate risks associated with global supply chains. 

Charting a course for the future 

According to the Barometer, there are heightened calls among UK businesses for government and third parties to support with international trade ambitions. Over one third (35%) call for help with reducing regulatory requirements and bureaucracy overseas, an increase of almost 10% compared to the Autumn wave in 2022 (26%).  

Jane Galvin, Head of Corporate Clients, Santander UK, added: “Bureaucratic challenges are amongst the biggest barriers to international trade for businesses large and small, and there is a clear demand from companies for help to overcome this, so they can drive their international growth ambitions. 

“At Santander, we are uniquely positioned to provide support to growing businesses through our sector and country experts, partnerships with trade, industry and international bodies, and our online platform Santander Navigator.” 

Lord Offord, Minister for Exports, Department for Businesses and Trade, said: “It’s great to see business sentiment is on the rise and more and more companies are seeing the benefits of trading internationally. 

“We’re backing British businesses by knocking down trade barriers, signing new trade deals, giving expert advice via our Export Support Service, and funding through UK Export Finance – our award-winning export credit agency.” 

The Spring 2024 Santander Trade Barometer is available to download from


The information contained in our press releases is intended solely for journalists and should not be used by consumers to make financial decisions. 

Notes to Editors  

  1.  Fieldwork carried out between 21st February – 12th March 2024 by YouGov. Total sample size of 1025 UK businesses with minimum £1m annual turnover.  

  1. Case studies available for interview 

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