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UK exporters' confidence softens, says British Chambers of Commerce

FILE PHOTO: A container ship is unloaded at Peel Ports Liverpool container terminal in Liverpool, Britain December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - The British Chambers of Commerce said on Thursday that exporters' confidence has softened slightly, due to concerns about currency fluctuations and a shortage of skilled workers.

The BCC said its 'trade confidence index' - a measure based on export documentation provided by regional chambers of commerce during the three months to June - was 2.5 percent lower than a year earlier, though still high by historic standards.

"Whilst UK businesses continue to deliver a strong export performance, they are increasingly concerned about what lies on the economic horizon," said Ian Wilson, chief executive of the British operations of delivery company DHL Express, which sponsored the report.

Official data last week showed Britain's trade deficit in goods and services was its widest in nine months in June, contrasting with most business surveys which have painted a much more upbeat picture.

Sterling's fall of around 14 percent since last year's Brexit vote has boosted the short-term competitiveness of British exporters, but there is little clarity on access to European Union markets after Britain leaves in March 2019.

Britain's government outlined plans for a future customs agreement with the EU on Tuesday and an interim deal to ease companies' Brexit concerns, but the proposals were described as "fantasy" by one senior EU official.

The BCC said that the proportion of manufacturers reporting stronger exports rose slightly in the second quarter, though orders slipped slightly. Services exporters also saw growth in exports and orders, albeit from a lower base.

(Reporting by David Milliken, editing by Andy Bruce)