BUSINESSES in Southampton exported more than £100 million worth of goods to the EU last year, new figures reveal.

Public spending watchdog the National Audit Office warns “widespread disruption” to UK trade with the EU is likely when the country exits the single market at the end of December.

HM Revenue and Customs figures show 721 businesses registered in the Southampton area exported goods to countries in the European Union in 2019.

This outward trade was valued at £133 million – 43% of the total value of exports included in the data.

The figures also show 988 businesses imported goods from the bloc at a value of £229 million last year – 51% of the value of all inbound trade.

The figures only include trade in goods, and not services.

Across the UK, companies exported £168 billion worth of goods to the EU last year, while imports amounted to £267 billion.

A recent report by the National Audit Office said there was “significant uncertainty” about whether preparations will be complete in time for the UK’s departure from the single market.

It added the Government could have avoided some of the problems if it had been swifter to tackle issues such as the number of customs agents to help traders.

Head of the NAO Gareth Davies said: “The January 1 deadline is unlike any previous EU exit deadline – significant changes at the border will take place and government must be ready.

“Disruption is likely and government will need to respond quickly to minimise the impact, a situation made all the more challenging by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Talks between the UK and EU continue this week as negotiators try to finalise a trade deal before the end of the year.

If they fail to do so, World Trade Organisation rules would kick in, which could increase the cost of imports and exports.

In the Southampton area, businesses exported goods to non-EU countries at a value of £173 million in 2019, while imports from outside the bloc were valued at £217 million.

A government spokesman said: “We are making significant preparations to prepare for the guaranteed changes at the end of the transition period – including investing £705 million to ensure the right border infrastructure, staffing and technology is in place, providing £84 million in grants to boost the customs intermediaries sector, and implementing border controls in stages so traders have sufficient time to prepare.

“With less than two months to go, it’s vital that businesses and citizens prepare too.”