<p>One of the key thresholds in the development of small and medium sized enterprises is exporting and trading internationally. A brief review of the academic and practitioner literature highlights a number of benefits associated with exporting that include exposure to differing ways of ‘how to do’ business and opportunities for the development of joint ventures and strategic alliances. However, several regions within the United Kingdom perceive that they have too few SMEs who trade internationally. Recent estimates suggest that approximately three per cent of the SMEs in the United Kingdom are actively exporting (Bank of England, 1999). Government policy makers have responded to such concerns by providing a range of support programmes to increase the number of SMEs who trade internationally and enhance the skills and capabilities of those SMEs who export, so that they can efficiently and effectively manage the exporting and market development process.</p> <p>Therefore, in the majority of the English regions, there are a range of publicly funded organisations providing advice, consultancy, information and training to SMEs wishing to trade internationally and those businesses already exporting. In addition, SMEs can access a number of export services from private sector organisations such as banks, accountants, freight forwarders and export agents.</p> <p>There has been no overall national ‘stocktake’ or audit of such provision. However, the need for such a stocktake is becoming increasingly important due to the introduction of a number of new support organisations into the institutional landscape and the re-organisation and re-branding of British Trade International as Trade Partners UK and the appointment of a series of Regional International Trade Directors. The introduction of the Small Business Service will have a major impact on the coverage and nature of provision for exporting SMEs within each of the English regions. The introduction of the Small Business Service, however, provides an opportunity to explore and examine alternative configurations of small business support and the types of organisation that are best placed to satisfy the needs of exporting SMEs.</p> <p>This paper presents the key findings to emerge from an audit of export services within each of the English regions. Based on a research and development project undertaken in conjunction with Trade Partners UK, the paper offers insights into:</p> <p>• The coverage of export services available to SMEs within England; • The effectiveness and appropriateness of current configuration of export services; • The ways in which the effectiveness of the current configuration of export services could be enhanced. </p> <p>The audit was based on a series of face-to-face and telephone interviews with local, regional and national providers of export provision. A key argument within the paper is that effective configurations of export and trade development support arise from insights into, and appropriate responses to, the exporting and trade development process as experienced by SMEs. The paper concludes with a number of implications in terms of how business-driven forms of support can be developed.</p
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