The Scottish Index of Manufactured Exports showed a 0.6% decline in real terms between January and March, despite an overall yearly growth of 4.2%.
The figures refer to over 780 companies across different sectors.
While remaining the best performing industry, the Scottish food and drink sector dipped by 2.9% in the first three months of 2012, following the first drop in drinks exports since the beginning of 2010. Chemicals showed an increase of 2.4% in the same period, proving to be the best performing sector.
Finance secretary John Swinney said: “There has been a slowdown over the past two quarters. This reflects the ongoing economic uncertainty in the eurozone and a less competitive exchange rate. While the European economies continue to struggle, we are seeing the emergence of growth markets in Asia and South America and we have to be prepared to make the most of these opportunities.”
The sectors that reported the worst performance were metals, dropping 6%, followed by wood, pulp, paper, publishing and printing (5.9%) then textiles, clothing and leather (4.6%).
Duncan Irvine, head of corporate banking at Barclays Scotland, said: “The first quarter of 2012 saw a reversal in fortunes for the previously strong food and drink and textiles sectors which is illustrative of just how unpredictable the current exporting climate is. The old and new guard of Scottish heavy industry – engineering and petrochemicals – both posted small upturns however performance across the board is disappointingly muted.”
Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “After a period of flat export growth in the second half of 2011, it is disappointing that exports have dipped into negative territory at the beginning of this year.
“It seems apparent that much of this fall was due to a weakness in drinks exports and this should underline the need to ensure that our drinks industry is valued and treated fairly by Government, especially in terms of taxation and regulation.
Ms Cameron added that seven of Scotland’s top 10 export destinations are in the eurozone.