Scotland’s Trade

Overview —

Investigating inadequacies in the collection of data on Scotland’s imports and exports.


Margaret Cuthbert

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In a new policy paper for Common Weal, economist Margaret Cuthbert publishes a study into the state of Scotland’s trade data and finds significant deficits in its coverage.


― Scotland is ill served when it comes to data on trade and cannot formulate good policy decisions without this data.

― Scotland gathers some data regarding the export of goods but less on the export of services and none at all on the imports of either.

― The current data on goods exports like the Global Connections Survey is based on annual surveys of 6,000 businesses.

― A low return rate on the surveys (often below 25%) and limits on the ability to survey small businesses limits the ability to capture the full picture of Scotland’s trade.

― When disaggregating data into different export sectors, this sample return rate can drop even further. A return rate of only 15% (representing 15 businesses) was found in economy, financial and related services.

― The equivalent survey in Northern Ireland are built into a UK business survey which is mandatory to fill in. It thus has a much higher return rate than Scotland’s.

― There appears to be no political reason that would stop Scotland from following the path of Northern Ireland in trade data collection.

― Scotland should investigate whether or not it has the power to make it mandatory to return the current trade surveys or find ways to integrate it into mandatory surveys.

― The Scottish Government should establish a Scottish Statistics Agency as soon as is feasible.

― An early mission of this agency should be the identification and filling of gaps in Scotland’s trade data.

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