Britain's main export market is outside EU

For the first time since the 1970s British companies are exporting more to countries outside the EU than inside.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 51% of exports in the fist quarter of this year went to countries outside of Europe – a rise of 13.2% on figures for 2011.

Demand for British goods in the Eurozone slowed with exports overall down by 7.2%.  Companies are now looking to fast-growing economies in Latin America and Asia to make up the shortfall.

The figures have encouraged Eurosceptics who argue that loosening our partnership with Europe would not affect our trade interests. However, others insist that Europe remains significant.

Christopher Howarth, senior political analyst at Open Europe, said: "It's good news that British business is taking advantage of opportunities in the fast growing emerging countries outside the EU.  However, the EU remains an important market for the UK. Therefore as well as looking to new opportunities, we still need to focus on reforming the EU and reducing its costs."

Others such as Scott Corfe and Douglas McWilliams from the Centre for Economics and Business Research think that the figures indicate a 'revolution' in the orientation of British trade;

"Historically UK trade has been focused on the former colonies. This started to change in the 1960s as the European countries recovered from the war and trade barriers came down.  Now, with Europe mired in economic recession and other economies growing faster, exports are re-orienting themselves again towards the fast growing emerging economies."

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