Scotland’s inadequate international trade performance has received some attention in recent weeks. New figures published a few weeks ago confirm the Scottish Chambers of Commerce view that the task of boosting the nation’s export figures should be more widely shared.

A glance at the forward diaries of individual chambers around Scotland confirms that our network is up for the challenge. Momentum is building, as international visits inspire further visits, this time with contracts and pens in hand.

Our network-wide effort is chiefly driven by the wealth of opportunities out there, and a belief that underwhelming export figures are everyone’s problem.

Our exporting deficit has its roots in structural changes in the Scottish economy in response to the global market. To take our largest and nearest overseas market as an example: Scottish manufactured exports to the EU fell from £8.6 billion in 2002 to £7.5 billion in 2016 (in real terms the decline was worse). That amounts to a fall of -13.0% or -0.9% a year.

In contrast UK manufactured goods exports increased by +25.8%, with annual average growth of +1.8%.

Annual growth in Scottish services exports has been more positive at about +4.9%, but compared with +8.7% in the UK it’s still disappointing, as is our 5.4% share of total UK exports.

In previous “golden ages” of Scottish exporting, nobody saw it as the job of the state and its para-commercial agencies to be the lead broker of international business-to-business links. Or at least not without meaningful collaboration with business groups at the sharp end.

The idea that Scottish Enterprise and SDI should shoulder the weight of responsibility for how much Scotland exports is a relatively recent idea. A more collegiate approach is now the way forward, with the public sector advising and signposting, supporting business-led trade activity.

As well as the entrepreneurialism of companies, what counts in trade growth is the quality of mutually-beneficial B2B engagement. Supported by the Scottish Government, forthcoming Chambers-led trips to China, Manhattan (Glasgow Chamber) and Nova Scotia (Lochaber Chamber) are all the result of diligent and focused relationship-building.

No-one pretends that exporting is easy for SMEs, or that isn’t a large proportion of trial and error, however good or sector-appropriate the advice you receive. But modern communications mean that time, shoe-leather and therefore speculative investment can be saved. B2B engagements can be short and to the point. Participants can share experiences about what works and what doesn’t from peers who share the same priorities and understand the commercial requirement to get bang for the buck, and also ensure that time spent in international markets and away from your desk is likely to be profitable. Nobody understands that priority better than the Chambers movement.

Liz Cameron is chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce.