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Vince Cable: Britain Lagging on Emerging Market Exports

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Britain is falling behind other countries when it comes to exporting to emerging markets and must focus on retail in order to catch up, U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable said on Wednesday.

"If our economy is going to recover, it is going to be through exports… it must be more outward-looking," Cable said at the Retail Week Live conference in London.

Only four percent of U.K. exports go to emerging markets, according to research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Citi, with the majority of U.K. exports heading to Europe and the U.S.

(Read More: Pound Tumbles as UK Heads for Further QE)

Cable highlighted retail as one of Britain's strongest industries, but said it needs to orientate away from its domestic market to retain its advantage.

"We must try to think of retail as an export industry," he said.

Retail employs over 10 percent of the U.K. workforce and is the country's biggest private sector employer. It contributes around 17.5 billion pounds ($26.1 billion) to tax revenues.

However, the sector has been hit by multiple business failures since the financial crisis, with 54 medium or large retailers collapsing in 2012, the most since 2008.

In January and February 2013 alone, 16 retailers went into receivership, including HMV, La Senza, Blockbuster and Jessops.

(Read More: 300 Blockbuster Stores to Close, Affecting 3,000 Jobs)

In a report out on Wednesday, the U.K. Trade and Investment department warned retailers must move quickly to gain a foothold in emerging markets.

"Competition is tough... Other nations are already beginning to market their expertise through delegations visiting the Gulf and Asia. The U.K. needs to move fast to position itself in this market space," the report said.

(Read More: Hedge Funds Bet British Retailers' Troubles Will Deepen)

Cable said retailers should focus on the BRIC nations, in particular Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia, Mumbai in India, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and first- and second-tier cities in China. He warned however that various barriers to entry still existed for international players, such as problems with intellectual property rights in China.

U.K. retail sales rose by 4.4 percent in February, according to the British Retail Consortium, versus a 2.3 percent rise a year earlier.

- By CNBC's Katy Barnato

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