NICOLA Sturgeon has announced plans to increase exports so they account for a quarter of Scotland's GDP in 10 years.

The First Minister said the Trading Nation strategy to grow Scottish exports from 20% to 25% in the next decade would create 17,500 more jobs.

She said the move would "make a big difference to jobs, public services and the overall quality of life".

Launching the export plan at the National Economic Forum in EdinburghSturgeon said: "The target that we have adopted of exports accounting for 25% of our GDP in 10 years' time is both important and also ambitious.

READ MORE: Scottish economy growth rate has overtaken the UK

"Exports have hovered around the 20% mark for almost the entire 20 years of devolution so getting to that 25% and staying there – or progressing further – would be a big change.

"It would also be a very beneficial change. It would add more than 2% to the size of our economy and create in the region of 17,000 jobs.

"As a result of that, it would increase annual tax take – the money we can invest in public services and infrastructure – by an estimated £500 million a year."

Sturgeon said the £20m funding to support the plan "might not seem like very much" but that it would have a "disproportionate impact".

The money would "target that support much more effectively than arguably we have before", she said, using it to expand Scotland's international presence, trebling the number of trade envoys from four to 12 and helping companies grow existing exports and enter new markets.

Speaking to business delegates, she added: "All of us can play our part in helping our existing exporters to become even more successful and in encouraging new success stories to come into being.

"By doing so, we can ensure that internationalisation is a success story for Scotland's future as well as something that we continue to be proud of about Scotland's past and our heritage."

Responding to the announcement, CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said: "Scotland has a proud exporting history yet we haven't kept pace with the progress made by other similar sized countries.

"CBI Scotland research shows exporting companies are more competitive, innovative and, crucially, more productive, so supporting firms to increase their international focus is vital for Scotland's economic growth."

She added: "The Trading Nation strategy represents an important step along this journey and the data-driven approach to identifying priority sectors and markets is hugely welcome.

"We also endorse efforts to simplify the exporting landscape, the focus on existing exporters with high potential for international growth and committing to bolstering digital training, advice and resources.

"To achieve the ambitious aim of boosting Scottish exports to 25% of our GDP by 2029, we need to ensure that existing resources are used as effectively as possible and to maintain a strong partnership between business, government and other stakeholders."

Following the launch, Scottish Conservative trade spokesman Gordon Lindhurst said: "It is ironic that in the same week this plan is published, the SNP has yet again ramped up its rhetoric on indyref2, wanting to tear us out of a successful union which is by far our biggest trading partner.

"Any growth this plan could potentially deliver pales into insignificance with the destruction which would be caused by putting up barriers with the rest of the UK - 60% of our export market."

He added: "A plan for growing Scotland's exports has been overdue given previous missed targets.

"In its 2011 economic strategy, the Scottish Government set out its ambition to increase the value of Scotland's exports by 50% between 2010 and 2017 but missed it by £22 billion.

"To meet the new targets announced today we need to do all we can not only to diversify our trade with emerging markets, but also to support more businesses to export in the first place."