A further "disappointing" fall in Scottish manufacturing exports has been blamed on a continuing slowdown in the world economy.
Exporters are facing difficult times
Government figures showed that total exports for the second quarter of 2003 fell by 2.7% and sales have shrunk by 21.5% over the last year.
Enterprise Minister Jim Wallace said that global factors were having a significant bearing on export trade.
Mr Wallace said: "These statistics are disappointing, if not unexpected.
"They confirm that international trading conditions were very difficult over the second quarter of this year.
"These difficulties are directly related to the downturn in the major global economies over that time, most notably in the Eurozone economies and also in the United States."
The minister said that despite good performance in some sectors there was no escaping the tough challenge for exporters.
He said: "Although I take a little comfort from the positive performance in some areas, including metals, transport equipment and chemicals, I recognise that these were very difficult times for Scottish exporters."
The minister said some business surveys, like the Royal Bank of Scotland Purchasing Managers' Index, showed signs that things were getting better.
He said: "The Scottish Executive remains absolutely committed to manufacturing in Scotland and will do all we can to help drive the sector forward.
"It is a crucial part of our economy and we are doing much to help, ranging from immediate measures such as freezing business rates for small and medium-sized businesses to spending that will equip Scotland with a higher skilled and educated workforce in the future."
The creation of modern apprenticeships, particularly in manufacturing and engineering, would also help, said the minister.
Scottish National Party justice spokesman Jim Mather said the figures were an indictment of executive policy.
He said: "Obviously, the Scottish Executive's economic policies are not working and by sticking with something that doesn't work anymore they are failing businesses across the country.
"We have to stop being forced to take our begging bowl to the government at Westminster to ask for handouts.
"Instead we should be given the opportunity to take control of our own finances, because only then can we stop our economy declining even further."
CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan called for Scottish business rates to be brought in line with those south of the border.
"These latest figures are very much in line with CBI Scotland's quarterly
industrial trends survey results and are a matter of considerable concern to
Scotland's business community," he said.