A new survey by the British Chambers of Commerce has found that most UK businesses still regard Europe as their main trading partner.
The poll of over 1,300 firms, conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) in conjunction with DHL, found that over the next three years, the top two markets that most businesses plan to start or continue exporting to are Western Europe (44%), and Central and Eastern Europe (32%). Western Europe is also the market that most firms plan to import from.
The findings show that exporters' strategies over the next three years will primarily be influenced by increased demand from overseas buyers (48%), exchange rates (36%) and the UK's future withdrawal from the EU (35%).
The survey shows that UK businesses foresee the most significant barriers to trading with foreign markets as tariffs (46%), customs procedures (39%) and local regulations (20%).
Those that import say they will primarily be influenced by the lack of suppliers in the UK (43%), followed by exchange rates (41%), and it being cheaper to import than source in the UK or produce within their business (33%).
These results, says the BCC, underline the importance of the UK and EU reaching a "business-friendly trade agreement that minimises costs and trade barriers". Europe will not only remain an important market for UK businesses to sell to but access to the European market will also be crucial for firms to source components.
Dr Adam Marshall, BCC director general, said: "Europe is the UK's largest trading partner, so it will come as no surprise that businesses regard access to European markets and products as fundamental to their medium-term trading strategies. Now that negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship are set to begin, businesses need clarity on the practicalities of the future trading relationship between the UK and EU without delay.
"High tariffs, cumbersome customs procedures, as well as conflicting regulatory requirements can deter firms from trading overseas - so a future agreement between the UK and the EU must minimise barriers and costs, to allow firms on both sides of the Channel to continue trading as freely as possible."