In 2012, 11.2% of registered businesses in the Non-Financial Business Economy in Great Britain exported goods and/or services, according to the ONS Annual Business Survey. This was a small increase on 2011, when the proportion of businesses exporting stood at 10.7%.
Meanwhile, the change in the proportion of businesses importing goods and/or services between 2011 and 2012 was more pronounced, increasing from 9.9% to 10.7%.
There was some overlap between the businesses that exported and imported, with 6.5% undertaking both activities, leaving 4.7% that exported only and 4.2% that imported only. As a result, in 2012, 15.4% of businesses were involved in some kind of international trade, up from 14.7% in 2011.
Fewer businesses exported than imported goods while more businesses exported than imported services
Businesses can trade in goods, services or both. The proportion of registered businesses exporting goods in 2012 was lower than that of those importing goods at 6% and 8% respectively (see Figure 1). There was some overlap between the businesses that exported and imported goods, with 4% carrying out both activities.
Unlike trade in goods, the proportion of registered businesses exporting services in 2012 was greater than that of those importing services at 7% and 4% respectively. There was some overlap between the businesses that exported and imported services, with 3% engaging in both activities.
Figure 1: Proportion of registered businesses in GB exporting and importing goods and services, 2012
Business size associated with likelihood of trading internationally
The likelihood of a business trading internationally in goods and/or services increases with size. In 2012, large businesses (those with 250 or more people in employment) were around four times more likely to export than small businesses (those with fewer than 50 people in employment) and almost five times more likely to import. This may be because large businesses are likely to have more resources for strengthening trade links with businesses abroad.
For trade in goods, business were always more likely to import than export irrespective of their size (see Figure 2). For trade in services, large businesses were also more likely to import than export (30% compared with 27%). Conversely, small businesses were more likely to export than import services (6% compared with 4%).
Figure 2: Proportion of registered businesses in GB exporting and importing goods and services by business size, 2012
Foreign-owned businesses more likely to trade internationally
Businesses are more likely to engage in exporting and/or importing activities if they are foreign-owned, with a similar pattern being seen for both trade in goods and trade in services. This may be because foreign-owned businesses are more likely to have an international structure, with pre-existing business models and supply chains that include international trade.
For trade in goods in 2012, foreign-owned businesses were around six times more likely to export than UK-owned businesses (36% compared with 6%) and around six times more likely to import (46% compared with 7%).
For trade in services, foreign-owned businesses were also around six times more likely to export than UK-owned businesses (37% compared with 6%) and over eight times more likely to import (35% compared with 4%).
For the data behind this short story, as well as further breakdowns of export and import activity, please see the data tables (110 Kb Excel sheet) .
It is intended that this import and export breakdown will be published each November alongside the standard ABS release, with the next update available in November 2014 and containing information for 2013. Future outputs will be available on the ONS website via the ABS webpages.
We would welcome any feedback you might have about this release, and would be particularly interested in knowing how you make use of these data to inform your work. Please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. These estimates are experimental official statistics. More detail of the methodology used to produce them and their coherence with other sources can be found in the Information note (214.3 Kb Pdf) .
2. Registered businesses/enterprises are those which are registered for VAT and/ or PAYE; any reference to a 'business' or 'enterprise' only covers this group.
3. These estimates cover the Non-Financial Business Economy in Great Britain excluding the Insurance and Reinsurance industries, which accounts for just under two thirds of the economy in terms of Gross Value Added. The Information Note (214.3 Kb Pdf) contains further information on the coverage of these estimates.
4. Regional or industry breakdowns of these data have not been included. The information available pertains only to the location or activity of the enterprise and not to its respective local units which may be unrepresentative of trading location or activity.
5. These estimates do not consider the value of the goods and services being traded, only the counts of businesses trading internationally.
6. No attempt has been made to follow individual businesses between 2011 and 2012. So for example, although the proportion of businesses importing has increased over this period, some individual businesses might have stopped importing.
7. The relationships between characteristics reported in this short story have been assessed individually, but it is important to remember that characteristics such as business size and ownership are likely to be interlinked.