A quarterly survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) shows the lowest level of export growth in the UK for six years. The BCC says Britain is too slow to exploit new markets.
The BBC's survey of more than 1,200 companies, which is sponsored by DHL, shows the most limited growth in overseas orders and sales since the UK started to emerge from the global financial crisis in 2009.
"While export orders have remained constant for just over half (54 percent) of UK businesses, and 50 percent report that export sales have remained the same as in the previous quarter, both have fallen to their lowest level since Q2 2009," according to a statement by the BCC.
A similar, recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also showed a decline in orders, with new export orders falling at the fastest pace in three years.
Lackluster demand from China and eurozone countries as well as the strong pound are partly to blame, but the BCC says the UK's problems are also homemade.
"The scale of challenge facing Britain today is huge," BCC Director General John Longworth said at the organization's annual trade conference, coinciding with the release of the report.
He said the figures make it clear that the UK's exports were at risk of going into "reverse gear" and that firms needed better access to finance to be able to break into new markets. He argued that the UK has "too few exporting companies and "is too slow to spot and exploit new markets."
He said Britain was "at a fork in the road" and had to improve the structure of its economy. He called the current level of consumer and government spending "unsustainable" and called on the government to "fix the fundamentals." Many businesses, he said, must put "global opportunities higher on their priority list."
Britain has had a trade deficit since 1998. It had increased more than fourfold by the end of 2014 and now stands at £34.5 billion (48.4 billion euros, $53.2 billion). Although it has narrowed since 2010, the improvement was down to the dominant services sector in the country.