Scotland: a trading nation

A plan for growing Scotland's exports.


Country Brief

The USA has one of the most competitive and technologically advanced economies in the world and is the largest economy in the world.

Key market information

Economic indicators


GDP 2017*


GDP per capita 2017*


GDP annual growth rate 2013-2017


GDP annual growth forecast 2018-2023


Population 2017


Projected population growth 2017-2050 (% change)


Average tariff 2016


Scotland’s exports to the USA


Scotland’s exports to USA 2017


Average annual growth in Scotland’s exports to the USA 2013-2017


Country rank in Scotland’s exports 2017


Scotland's Top Export Sectors to the USA

Scotland's Top Export Sectors to the USA Chart

USA imports from the world  

USA goods and services imports 2017*


USA average annual import growth 2013-2017*


USA Top 15 Export Sectors

USA Top 15 Export Sectors

Sources: Economic indicators (World Bank, IMF World Economic Outlook), Scotland’s Exports (Export Statistics Scotland 2017), Country Imports (World Bank, UN Comtrade).

* denotes an indicator which has been converted into GB£ from US$ using the Bank of England’s average annual spot rate data. Note growth rates may vary depending on unit of currency used.

The US Economy

The United States is the world’s largest economy with a GDP of around £15 trillion ($20 trillion) and it has the world’s largest private sector with access to the supply chains of many global businesses.(1)

The USA is a vast country and it is important to conduct thorough market research in each of the states that you want to do business in, as there may be differences in laws from state to state.

Key economic indicators are:

  • The US economy is growing strongly at 3.4% of GDP in 2017. (OECD)
  • Exports as a percentage of the USA’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) were only 12% in 2017 despite the US being the world’s third largest exporter. (OECD)
  • Unemployment is low at 3.9% in 2018. (OECD)

The Department for International Trade guide to doing business in the USA can be found here.

Strengths of the USA market

The USA ranks 8th, dropping from 6, out of 190 countries in the World Bank rankings for ease of doing business in 2018.

The USA is the world’s largest market and has the world’s largest private sector. It also has::

  • low regulatory barriers
  • no language barriers
  • strong legal system

Potential challenges to trading in the USA

The vast size of the USA market can lead to some unique challenges such as:

  • regional differences between the 50 markets/states
  • strong competition, causing saturation of products or services
  • high customer service expectations
  • high cost of living in major cities
  • significant time difference (between 5 and 8 hours behind the UK)
  • high cost for business insurance
  • litigation is common
  • expensive and time consuming process for work visas

The USA is not a single national market; it is a federal system. Each state is a separate entity with its own rules and regulations. It is essential to determine whether to develop your business in a specific state, or whether national entry is possible for your product or service.

Benefits for Scottish businesses exporting to the USA

  • UK and Scottish brands have a positive reputation in the USA
  • English is the first language
  • stable, large economy

What Scotland exports to the USA

The USA is Scotland’s top international export destination. Exports were worth £5.5 billion in 2017. 17.1% of Scotland’s total international exports. (Export Statistics Scotland).

The top 5 Scottish export sectors are:

  • Engineering and advanced manufacturing

  • Food and Drink
  • Financial and Business Services
  • Technology, Digital and Media 
  • Energy

Priority sectors in the US for economic development include:

  • Infrastructure
  • Chemical Sciences
  • Manufacturing
  • Machinery

Sectoral opportunities for Scottish companies

When compared to the export performance of similar countries (Norway, Finland, Ireland and Denmark), the USA market presents potential export opportunities in the following subsectors:

  • Chemical Sciences
  • Manufacturing of computer, electronic and optical products 
  • Computer programming
  • Research

USA Top Opportunities Infographic

Existing in-market support for Scottish businesses in the USA

Scottish Government Network of External Offices and Scottish Development International

The Scottish Government has a Scottish Affairs Office in Washington DC that promotes Scotland’s interests in the United States, working closely with the Scottish Government’s offices there, as well as with Scottish Development International’s network of offices in North America. 

The Scottish Government’s office is based in the British Embassy and more details can be found in the US Engagement Strategy.

Scottish Development International has offices in BostonChicagoHouston, and San Jose with 5 members of staff supporting trade in the consumer industries, science and technology sectors. 


There are currently 191 GlobalScots in the USA covering a wide variety of sectors. The USA is a priority country for expansion of the GlobalScot network.

Department for International Trade 

Contact the Department for International Trade team in the USA for more information and advice on opportunities for doing business in the USA.

British American Business Council

The British American Business Council is the largest transatlantic business network, with 

22 chapters, and over 2,000 member companies based in major business centres throughout North America and the United Kingdom. The BABC can provide members advice and introductions to the American market.

Scottish University links

The USA is the top global collaborator in research with Scotland (Scottish Science Advisory Council report, 2019 pg. 57). Harvard Universityis the top single institution worldwide for academic collaboration with Scottish universities. Between 2007-2016 there were 16,983 joint publications between Scottish and US institutions. 

Heriot-Watt Universityis collaborating with Purdue University, USA and Helia Photonicson a £100,000 Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)funded project, studying plasmonics, an extremely fast method of information transfer over very small wires, and the fabrication of novel nano-photonic devices.

Scottish Innovation Centre The Datalabhas been working with Aggreko using machine learningto enable Aggreko to respond more quickly to generator maintenance issues from its remote operations centre in Louisiana.



(1) World Economic Forum


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