UK trade: April 2019

Total value of UK exports and imports of goods and services in current prices, chained volume measures and implied deflators.

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Contact:
Email Abi Casey

Release date:
10 June 2019

Next release:
10 July 2019

1. Main points

  • The total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £2.7 billion to £15.6 billion in the three months to April 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £2.8 billion to £43.4 billion and the trade in services surplus widened £0.1 billion to £27.9 billion.

  • Rising imports of unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold), offset in part by falling imports of fuels, was the main driver in the widening of the trade in goods deficit in the three months to April 2019.

  • Excluding unspecified goods, which includes non-monetary gold, the total trade deficit narrowed £4.2 billion to £6.6 billion in the three months to April 2019.

  • Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit widened £7.0 billion to £18.4 billion in the three months to April 2019.

  • The total trade deficit widened £19.3 billion to £44.6 billion in the 12 months to April 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £15.4 billion to £153.0 billion and the trade in services surplus narrowed £3.9 billion to £108.5 billion.

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2. Things you need to know about this release

Data revision policy

In accordance with National Accounts Revisions Policy data in this release have been revised back to January 2019 when compared with our previous trade bulletin on 10 May 2019.

National Statistics designation status

The UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade (PDF 72.8KB) on 14 November 2014. We have now responded to all of the specific requirements of the reassessment of UK trade and are in the final stages of providing evidence to the Authority. We are undertaking a programme of improvements to UK trade statistics in line with the UK trade development plan, including more detail and improvements now published to address anticipated future demands. On 24 October 2018 we published an article outlining our achievements so far and forward look with regards to the transformation of our trade statistics. We continue to work with the Office for Statistics Regulation team to regain National Statistics status for UK trade statistics. We welcome feedback on our new trade statistics, developments and future plans. If you have any comments, please email trade@ons.gov.uk.

UK trade data

Unless otherwise specified, data within this bulletin are in current prices, in other words, they have not been adjusted to remove the effects of inflation.

UK trade data within our monthly trade bulletin are published at around a six-week lag due to the timeliness of source data. For example, the July 2019 publication will include data up to the end of May 2019.

Erratic commodities

Trade statistics for any one month can be erratic. For that reason, we recommend comparing the latest three months against the preceding three months, and the same three months of the previous year.

Oil and other “erratic” commodities can make a large contribution to trade in goods, but often mask the underlying trend in the export or import values due to their volatility. The “erratics” series includes ships, aircraft, precious stones, silver and non-monetary gold. Non-monetary gold can have a particularly large impact due to the large volumes of gold traded on the London markets. Therefore, we also publish data exclusive of these commodities, which may provide a better guide to the emerging trade picture.

Non-monetary gold

In line with international standards, the Office for National Statistics’s (ONS’s) headline trade statistics contain the UK’s exports and imports of non-monetary gold. Non-monetary gold is the technical term for gold bullion not owned by central banks.

Because a significant amount of the world’s trade in non-monetary gold takes place on the London markets, this trade can have a large impact on the size of and change in the UK’s headline trade figures.

Non-monetary gold is one sub-component of the commodity group “unspecified goods”.

More information about the ONS’s recording of non-monetary gold is available.

Trade asymmetries

These data are our best estimates of bilateral UK trade flows, compiled following internationally agreed standards and using a wide range of robust data sources. However, in some cases alternative estimates of bilateral trade flows are available from the statistical agencies for those countries or through central databases such as UN Comtrade. Differences between estimates are known as trade asymmetries and are a known aspect of international trade statistics, affecting bilateral estimates across the globe, not just the UK.

We are heavily engaged in analysis of these asymmetries, developing strong bilateral relationships with other countries to understand, explain and potentially reduce them. We have published a series of analyses showing comparisons and the relative strengths of different estimates, which users may wish to reference to help them better understand the quality of our bilateral trade estimates.

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3. Total trade deficit widened in the three months to April 2019

Figure 1 and Table 1 show the change to trade in goods, services and total trade balances, along with exports and imports in the three months to April 2019 compared with the three months to January 2019.

The total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £2.7 billion to £15.6 billion in the three months to April 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £2.8 billion to £43.4 billion. Goods exports increased £1.4 billion to £89.8 billion while imports increased £4.1 billion to £133.3 billion.

The trade in services surplus increased £0.1 billion to £27.9 billion in the three months to April 2019. Exports of services decreased £0.1 billion to £73.9 billion, while imports decreased by a greater £0.2 billion to £46.0 billion.

Figure 2 shows the UK trade balances on a three-month on three-month basis between April 2017 and April 2019.

Imports of goods increased £4.1 billion to £133.3 billion in the three months to April 2019 due largely to increased imports of unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold), which rose £6.0 billion. Imports of unspecified goods increased in the three months to April 2019 and much of the increase was due to a rise in imports of non-monetary gold. Imports of fuels fell £1.7 billion in the three months to April 2019, partially offsetting the increase in imports.

Exports of goods increased £1.4 billion to £89.8 billion in the three months to April 2019. Exports of miscellaneous manufactures increased £1.3 billion, due primarily to works of art. Exports of chemicals increased £0.6 billion, due largely to increased exports of organic chemicals.

Services exports decreased £0.1 billion in the three months to April 2019. The largest contributors to the decrease in services exports were financial services, and telecommunications, computer and information services. Imports of services decreased £0.2 billion in the three months to April 2019. The largest contributors to the fall in imports of services were financial services, travel services, and telecommunications, computer and information services.

There were large increases in imports of non-monetary gold in the three months to April 2019. Excluding unspecified goods, which includes non-monetary gold, the total trade deficit narrowed £4.2 billion to £6.6 billion in the three months to April 2019.

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4. The trade in goods deficit widened with both EU and non-EU countries in the three months to April 2019

Figure 3 shows the changes in trade in goods exports, imports and balances with EU and non-EU countries between the three months to January 2019 and the three months to April 2019.

The trade in goods deficit widened £2.4 billion to £18.4 billion with non-EU countries and £0.4 billion to £25.0 billion with EU countries in the three months to April 2019.

Exports to non-EU countries increased £1.2 billion to £45.7 billion, while imports from non-EU countries increased £3.6 billion to £64.1 billion in the three months to April 2019. Imports of unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold) from non-EU countries increased £5.8 billion, due largely to increased imports of non-monetary gold. This was in part offset by imports of fuels from non-EU countries, which fell £1.3 billion.

Increased exports of goods to non-EU countries were driven largely by increased exports of chemicals and miscellaneous manufactures, which both increased by £0.8 billion. Increased exports of chemicals were due mainly to increased exports of organic chemicals, and medicinal and pharmaceutical products, increasing £0.5 billion and £0.2 billion respectively. This was offset in part by a £0.7 billion fall in exports of unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold) to non-EU countries in the three months to April 2019.

Imports of miscellaneous manufactures and chemicals were the main contributors to the increase in imports from EU countries in the three months to April 2019, with increases of £0.5 billion and £0.2 billion respectively. The £0.2 billion increase in chemicals imports was due largely to an increase in imports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products of £0.5 billion. Imports of fuels from EU countries fell £0.3 billion, partially offsetting rises in imports of miscellaneous manufactures and chemicals.

Chemical imports have increased month-on-month between December 2018 and March 2019, with the sharpest rise in March 2019. The increase in imports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products from EU countries in the three months to March 2019 and subsequent fall in April 2019 were consistent with an increase in activity ahead of the UK’s originally intended departure date from the European Union, but we were unable to quantify the effect of this.

Increased exports to EU countries were due largely to increased exports of machinery and transport equipment, which increased £0.7 billion in the three months to April 2019. Ships and aircraft were the largest contributor within this commodity group, increasing £0.5 billion in the three months to April 2019. Exports of miscellaneous manufactures increased £0.5 billion. Rising exports were partially offset by falling exports of fuels, unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold) and material manufactures, which fell by £0.5 billion, £0.2 billion and £0.2 billion, respectively.

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5. Removing the effect of inflation, the trade deficit widened in the three months to April 2019

This section presents volume and price estimates of the UK trade exports, imports and balances, using chained volume measures (CVMs) and implied deflators (IDEFs). A CVM is a “real” measure in that it has had the effect of inflation removed. An IDEF shows the implied change in average prices for the respective components of the trade balance, for example, the IDEF for imports will show the average price movement for imports.

Figure 4 shows the UK trade balances on a CVM basis, three-month on three-month from April 2017 to April 2019.

In volume terms, the total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £7.0 billion to £18.4 billion in the three months to April 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £5.6 billion to £44.3 billion and the trade in services surplus narrowed by a lesser £1.4 billion to £25.9 billion.

Goods exports increased £1.3 billion to £81.0 billion while imports increased by a greater £6.9 billion to £125.3 billion. Services exports decreased £1.0 billion to £69.1 billion while services imports increased by £0.4 billion to £43.1 billion.

In volume terms, the total trade deficit widened more than in current prices; this can be attributed to falling import prices in the three months to April 2019 and a slight rise in export prices. Import prices fell across all top-level commodity groups with the exception of fuels, which rose reflecting recent movements in oil prices. Increases in export prices were driven mainly by rises in the fuels deflator, again reflecting recent movements in oil prices.

Figure 5 shows CVMs and IDEFs for goods imports on a three-month on three-month basis between April 2017 and April 2019.

The largest driver of the increase in goods imports was a £7.0 billion increase in imports of unspecified goods, much of which was due to increased imports of non-monetary gold.

Imports of miscellaneous manufactures and chemicals also increased by £0.8 billion and £0.6 billion respectively. Increased chemical imports were driven largely by a £0.6 billion increase in imports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products. This increase was offset in part by a £1.8 billion decrease in fuel imports, with £1.5 billion of this coming from a decrease in imports from non-EU countries.

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6. Explore UK trade in goods country-by-commodity data for 2018 via our interactive tools

Explore the 2018 trade in goods data using our interactive tools. Our data breaks down UK trade in goods with 234 countries by 125 commodities.

Use our map to get a better understanding of what goods the UK traded with a particular country. Select a country by hovering over it or using the drop-down menu.

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Notes:

For more information about our methods and how we compile these statistics, please see Trade in goods, country-by-commodity experimental data: 2011 to 2016. Users should note that the data published alongside this release are no longer experimental.

These data are our best estimate of these bilateral UK trade flows. Users should note that alternative estimates are available, in some cases, via the statistical agencies for bilateral countries or through central databases such as UN Comtrade.

Interactive maps denote country boundaries in accordance with statistical classifications set out within Appendix 4 of the Balance of Payments (BoP) Vademecum (PDF, 1.1MB).

What about trade in a particular commodity in 2018? What percentage of UK car exports went to the EU? Where did UK imports of tea and coffee come from last year?

Use our interactive tools to understand UK trade of a particular commodity in 2018.

Select a commodity from the drop-down menu, or click through the levels to explore the data.

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Notes:

For more information about our methods and how we compile these statistics, please see Trade in goods, country-by-commodity experimental data: 2011 to 2016. Users should note that the data published alongside this release are no longer experimental.

These data are our best estimate of these bilateral UK trade flows. Users should note that alternative estimates are available, in some cases, via the statistical agencies for bilateral countries or through central databases such as UN Comtrade.

Interactive maps denote country boundaries in accordance with statistical classifications set out within Appendix 4 of the Balance of Payments (BoP) Vademecum (PDF, 1.1MB).

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7. The total trade deficit widened in the 12 months to April 2019

Figure 6 shows the changes to trade in goods, services and total trade balance, along with exports and imports in the 12 months to April 2019 compared with the 12 months to April 2018.

The total UK trade deficit (goods and services) widened £19.3 billion to £44.6 billion in the 12 months to April 2019, due largely to a widening of the trade in goods deficit.

The trade in goods deficit widened £15.4 billion to £153.0 billion in the 12 months to April 2019, as imports of goods increased £31.4 billion to £509.6 billion compared with exports, which rose £16.0 billion to £356.6 billion. The largest contributor to the increase in exports was fuels, which increased £7.9 billion. Increased imports were driven primarily by unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold), which rose £8.3 billion, followed by fuels, which increased £7.8 billion.

The trade in services surplus narrowed £3.9 billion to £108.5 billion in the 12 months to April 2019, as imports increased £12.9 billion to £180.7 billion while exports grew by a lesser £8.9 billion to £289.2 billion. The main contributors to the increase in imports of services were other business, financial and travel services.

Increased imports of unspecified goods and fuels were the largest contributors to the increase in imports in the 12 months to April 2019; increasing by £8.3 billion and £7.8 billion, respectively. Increased imports of fuels in current prices were due largely to price increases. Imports of fuels in volume terms decreased by £1.6 billion whilst the implied deflator (IDEF) increased 22.5%, broadly reflecting the increasing oil prices in this 12-month period.

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8. The trade in goods deficit widened with both EU and non-EU countries in the 12 months to April 2019

Figure 7 shows the changes in goods exports, imports and balances with EU countries and non-EU countries in the 12 months to April 2019 compared with the 12 months to April 2018.

The £15.4 billion widening in the trade in goods deficit to £153.0 billion in the 12 months to April 2019 was due mainly to trade with non-EU countries. The trade in goods deficit widened £13.1 billion to £57.1 billion with non-EU countries and by a lesser £2.3 billion to £95.9 billion with EU countries in the 12 months to April 2019.

The widening of the trade in goods deficit with non-EU countries in the 12 months to April 2019 was due mainly to imports increasing by more than exports. Imports from non-EU countries increased £21.6 billion while exports increased by a lesser £8.5 billion.

The largest contributors to the increase in imports from non-EU countries were unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold) and fuels, which increased £8.5 billion and £7.3 billion respectively.

Increased exports to non-EU countries were driven by increases in exports of fuels, chemicals, and machinery and transport equipment, which increased £3.4 billion, £1.9 billion and £1.1 billion respectively.

Imports of goods from EU countries increased £9.8 billion, partially offset by exports, which increased £7.5 billion in the 12 months to April 2019.

The increase in exports to EU countries were driven by increased exports of fuels, and machinery and transport equipment of £4.4 billion and £2.3 billion respectively.

Imports of machinery and transport equipment from EU countries increased £2.7 billion, while imports of material manufactures and miscellaneous manufactures both increased £1.9 billion.

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9. Revisions

In accordance with National Accounts Revisions Policy data within this release have been revised back to January 2019 when compared with estimates in the release published 10 May 2019. Figure 8 shows the revisions to the goods, services and total trade balances from January 2019 to March 2019.

The total trade balance was revised upwards in January 2019 as a result of upward revisions to the trade in services balance more than offsetting the downward revisions to the trade in goods balance. In February and March 2019, downward revisions to the trade in goods balance outweighed the upward revisions to services.

Services data were revised upward when compared with the last trade release as a result of greater data content and returns from the International Trade in Services Survey. A breakdown of trade in services will be available in the 24 July 2019 publication of UK trade in services by partner country for January to March 2019. The trade in services balance was revised upwards as exports were revised up by more than imports.

Goods revisions were due largely to upward revisions to imports, while exports were revised downwards. Goods imports revisions were a result of upward revisions to unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold).

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11. Quality and methodology

Trade is measured through both exports and imports of goods and services. Data are supplied by over 30 sources including several administrative sources, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) being the largest for trade in goods.

This monthly release contains tables showing the total value of trade in goods together with chained volume measures (CVMs) and implied deflators (IDEFs). Figures are analysed by broad commodity group (CP, CVMs and IDEFs) and according to geographical area (CP only). In addition, the UK trade statistical bulletin also includes early monthly estimates of the value of trade in services.

Further qualitative data and information can be found in the attached datasets. This includes data on:

Detailed methodological notes are published in the UK Balance of Payments, The Pink Book 2018.

The UK trade methodology web pages have been developed to provide detailed information about the methods used to produce UK trade statistics.

The UK trade Quality and Methodology Information report contains important information on:

  • the strengths and limitations of the data and how it compares with related data

  • uses and users of the data

  • how the output was created

  • the quality of the output including the accuracy of the data

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