Businesses in the UK, US, Spain and Poland identify expansion abroad as increasingly important for their growth, despite the uncertain macroeconomic environment and geopolitical tensions.

Santander UK Trade Barometer

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The Santander UK Trade Barometer was established eight years ago to measure British businesses attitudes to the economy, levels of business confidence, barriers to growth and their views on international expansion. It offers unique insight into their views on global trade, growth and risk. In Spring 2024, the Trade Barometer added perspectives from companies in Poland, Spain and the US, enabling us to compare the experiences of organisations around the world. 

The latest edition of Santander UK’s Trade Barometer shows that almost a third (28%) of UK domestic businesses are considering international expansion in the next three years – the highest level in the last two years. Meanwhile, 56% of businesses in the US, 39% in Spain and 38% in Poland are also weighing up expanding across borders in pursuit of growth.

This is the first edition of the Trade Barometer to expand the scope of research beyond the UK to include findings from other Grupo Santander core markets. It also shows that (28%) of UK businesses already trading internationally expect more than half of their revenues to come from abroad in the next 12 months, a figure that has doubled in the last two years.

The expectations of UK businesses leaders about growth opportunities from their international journey are slightly higher than those in other Santander markets. The survey shows that 20% of US, 25% of Spanish and 17% of Polish businesses trading internationally expect to have more than half of their revenue generated from operations abroad in the next year.

A consistent Trade Barometer finding since it was established eight years ago is that companies with a global footprint or international ambitions are healthier and more resilient.

Where do businesses see growth in the future?

The Santander UK Trade Barometer Spring 2024 report shows that SMEs are placing increasing emphasis on the importance of international trade – but where do firms see opportunities?

According to 47% of US businesses, the UK stands out as the top destination for trade, second only to Canada (50%). A further 39% of US firms identified the UK as the main growth opportunity over the next 12 months.

The size, strength and resilience of the US economy persuaded UK businesses to look across the Atlantic for expansion opportunities. For UK companies, the United States remains the top destination (35%), followed by Australia (21%), Canada (21%), Germany (20%), UAE (16%), France (15%) and China (12%). EU countries have dropped down the list again.

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

Business confidence

SMEs with the ambition to expand and explore new opportunities in international markets are also those that show the greatest optimism about the future. Across the four countries included in the Trade Barometer, confidence in their ability to grow was highest among US firms (82%) and lowest in Poland (69%). The respective figures for the UK and Spain were 75% and 76%.

Santander UK is uniquely placed to support businesses looking to expand internationally by taking full advantage of Grupo Santander’s presence in 10 markets and its global network. In the last five years, Santander UK has helped more than 1,500 businesses enter a new market – 450 of these in 2023 alone. A key element of support to SMEs, whether they are clients or not, is the Santander Navigator platform, a global ecosystem of providers offering a range of services and insights to help business leaders connect to new markets.