NICOLA Sturgeon will visit the US and Canada next week in a bid to strengthen Scotland’s trade and cultural links.

The First Minister will embark on whistle-stop tour of Washington DC, New York, New Jersey, Ottawa and Toronto over five days.

It comes as new figures show the US remains Scotland’s top export destination, with an estimated £5.5 billion of exports in 2017 – up by 11.1 per cent from the previous year.

However, Ms Sturgeon’s visit also means she will avoid being quizzed on the revised Scottish Budget at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.

MSPs will now not be given the chance to question her until February 21, after the Scottish Parliament’s recess.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Scotland has a longstanding relationship with North America across family, friendship, culture and business.

“The latest figures released just this week show how important our trade relationship with North America is for our economy.

“This visit will build on the existing links between our countries and provide new opportunities for us to work together and learn from each other’s expertise in areas including climate change, renewables and gender equality.

“With the shadow of Brexit hanging over our economy, it is more important now than ever to reassure businesses that Scotland is an open and welcoming country and an attractive place to invest in, visit and live.”

Her engagements include an address at Georgetown University to discuss Brexit, and the launch of the Scotland is Now campaign in Canada.

But officials said there are no plans to meet President Donald Trump, who is scheduled to give the State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Further potential political meetings are still being finalised.

Ms Sturgeon last visited the US in 2017, when she gave a speech at Stanford University and met Governor of California Jerry Brown to discuss climate change.

Her trip to Canada, which continues to be a top 20 export destination for Scotland, will be the first visit by a First Minister in more than ten years.