Scotland's manufacturing exports have fallen by almost a quarter over the past year, according to government statistics.
Manufacturing exports have fallen by nearly a quarter
Export sales fell by 24% during the last nine months of 2002 and the first quarter of 2003.
Deputy Enterprise Minister Lewis Macdonald blamed the slump on a global economic downturn.
But political rivals attributed the fall to failed Scottish Executive economic policies.
The statistics said that sales decreased by 3.4% in real terms.
Electrical and instrument engineering dropped by 40%. The sector accounted for 39% of manufactured exports in the first quarter of 2003.
On a more positive note, several sectors recorded constant price increases in the level of exports.
Metals and metal products increased by 64%, while transport equipment rose by 15%.
Mr Macdonald said the statistics confirmed the difficulties businesses in Scotland faced.
Brian Monteith: "Slash business rates"
He said: "The poor export performance over 2002 very much reflects the subdued growth
in the major global economies over that time.
"As a small and open economy, Scotland's economic wellbeing is inextricably linked to global economic circumstances and there are no quick fixes for economic growth."
Scottish Tory finance spokesman Brian Monteith said the statistics were "absolutely astonishing".
Mr Monteith said the executive must do more to create a business-friendly environment.
He said: "Lewis Macdonald said his job was to implement the conditions to maximise growth - he is right.
"He should slash business rates, cut unnecessary red tape, and remove Scottish Water from state control so that businesses no longer face 500% increases in their water bills."
The Scottish National Party said the executive appeared unable to reverse the economic slide.
SNP economic spokesman Jim Mather said it was "damning evidence" that the executive's policies were not working.
He said that unless Scotland took control over tax rates then young, skilled workers may be forced to leave the country in search of employment.
"From low growth to lost jobs and falling relative wages, the proof is there that Scotland must stop being a branch economy with its tax rates dictated by London, and must grasp the power to compete," he said.
The Fraser of Allander Institute released statistics on Wednesday suggesting Scotland's economy is, in fact, growing.
GDP growth is expected to reach 1.3% this year and 2.2% in 2004.
The institute's quarterly economic report said recovery was not expected until the second half of this year, with manufacturing not showing improvement until next year.