Blackpool-based Federation of Small Businesses warns that Brexit must not led to a skills drought.
The group, which has its HQ at Squires Gate, has publishing its initial findings from six-month research on the business impact of leaving the EU.
It said it underlines the importance of the pledge to secure the greatest possible access to the EU single market since overseas trade was crucial to the economy and UK small businesses.
One in three (32 per cent) small businesses are involved in overseas trade as an exporter and/or importer, with the vast majority trading with the EU single market (92 per cent of exporting small firms and 85 per cent of importing small firms).
As a result of Brexit, one-third (29 per cent) of exporting small firms, regardless of destination, expect their level of exports to decline, while one in five (20 per cent) expect it to increase.
The difference is starker for current importers, where one-third (31 per cent) expect to see a decrease compared to seven per cent that expect to see an increase.
Gary Lovatt, FSB Lancashire and Cumbria Regional Chairman, said: “One in three FSB members trades overseas. Small business exports have been on the rise since the referendum with the lower value of the pound making UK goods and services more competitive.
“We know that our members who export are more likely to survive, innovate and grow.
“As the UK leaves the single market any new agreement must maintain the current ease of trade with the EU and not lead to additional administrative or financial burdens.”
FSB research reveals that one in five (21 per cent) small business employers employ non-UK EU citizens, with the majority of these employees already residing in the UK with the right to work here.
Almost half (47 per cent) rely on mid-skilled workers, such as mechanics or care workers, whereas, a fifth (21 per cent) need lower-skilled work such as farm workers and cleaners.
Gary Lovatt added: “FSB research clearly shows the importance small businesses place on being able to access the skills and labour they require, particularly mid-skilled workers, who are non-UK EU citizens recruited here in the UK. Mid-level skills are vital for small firms, and businesses call for the right to remain for those EU citizens in the workforce here.”