The UK has launched an e-commerce trade commission in the hope of encouraging more British businesses to trade and export online.

Set up by the Institute of Export and International Trade (IOE&IT), the initiative – which the IOE&IT says is the first of its kind – will have a particular focus on getting SMEs to take advantage of e-commerce trade opportunities and capitalise on recently signed trade deals.

The commission will run for two years, and will act as an advisory body to the UK government’s department for business and trade, identifying “clear and deliverable changes” to boost the country’s e-commerce exports.

On the board of the commission are the Federation of Small Businesses, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and Association of International Courier & Express Services (AICES), as well as Amazon, Alibaba, eBay, Google and Shopify.

“The e-commerce trade commission is a unique opportunity to make positive changes that truly support small British businesses,” says Marco Forgione, IOE&IT director general and commission chair. “Buying goods online has fast become the norm for consumers and UK businesses have the opportunity to take advantage of new trade agreements being signed by the government which have specific provisions, including those relating to e-commerce.”

This initiative follows recommendations made in a 2022 report from the Social Market Foundation, commissioned by Amazon and supported by the IOE&IT, which investigated the state of UK e-commerce. The report found that “significant untapped potential” in e-commerce which could see 70,000 more UK small businesses exporting – resulting in a potential boost in output of £9.3bngross value added across the economy.

“We need to increase UK exports to £1tn by 2030. Helping more UK firms to trade digitally will help us to reach this ambitious target,” says Kemi Badenoch, secretary of state for business and trade. “The UK is home to the most advanced e-commerce market in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. Our new e-commerce and trade commission is going to build on that position and bring government and business together identifying clear and deliverable changes to boost UK e-commerce trade.”

Malcolm Offord, exports minister, adds: “We’ve just signed a new deal – the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – with really exciting countries like Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Japan. They’ve got the fastest-growing middle class and they’re all consumers who want to buy products made in Britain – and we have to help SMEs get there. It doesn’t matter where a business is based – you can be in a remote part of the Highlands of Scotland, as long as you’re online, we can get you exporting to these exciting new markets.”