UK trade: December 2019

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

This is the latest release. View previous releases

20 February 2020

A minor error has occurred in Figure 6. Where it said that the trade in goods deficit "widened", this should have said "narrowed". This has now been corrected.

We apologise for any confusion this may have caused.

11 February 2020

A minor error has occurred in Table 1. Where it said that the trade in goods balance "widened", this should have said "narrowed". This has now been corrected.

We apologise for any confusion this may have caused.

Contact:
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Release date:
11 February 2020

Next release:
11 March 2020

1. Main points

  • The underlying total trade deficit (goods and services), excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, widened £4.0 billion to £6.5 billion in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019, largely because of trade in services.

  • The trade in services surplus narrowed £5.1 billion in Quarter 4 2019 largely because of the inclusion of GDP balancing adjustments. Excluding GDP adjustments and precious metals, the total trade deficit widened by a lesser £1.0 billion to £2.0 billion.

  • Exports of precious metals increased by £11.2 billion, while imports fell by £2.1 billion in Quarter 4 2019, leading the total trade balance (including non-monetary gold and other precious metals) to increase by £9.3 billion from a deficit of £3.4 billion to a surplus of £5.9 billion.

  • The trade in goods deficit, excluding unspecified goods (which includes non-monetary gold) narrowed with EU countries and widened with non-EU countries.

  • Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit in volume terms, excluding unspecified goods, widened by £4.3 billion to £4.1 billion in Quarter 4 2019.

  • The total trade deficit narrowed by £0.5 billion to £29.3 billion in 2019, with a £9.7 billion narrowing of the trade in goods deficit, largely offset by a £9.2 billion narrowing of the trade in services surplus.

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2. Things you need to know about this release

After EU withdrawal

As the UK leaves the EU, it is important that our statistics continue to be of high quality and are internationally comparable. During the transition period, those UK statistics that align with EU practice and rules will continue to do so in the same way as before 31 January 2020. We will continue to produce statistics broken down to EU and non-EU aggregates.

After the transition period, we will continue to produce our international trade statistics in line with the UK Statistics Authority’s (UKSA’s) Code of Practice for Statistics and in accordance with internationally agreed statistical guidance and standards. This is based on the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual sixth edition (BPM6), until those standards are updated.

Data published in UK trade statistical releases also form part of the broader system of UK National Accounts, which will be produced in line with international standards as laid down in the European System of Accounts (ESA) 2010 until the EU budgets are finalised for the years in which we were a member, as specified in the Withdrawal Agreement.

Data revision policy

Data within this release have been revised in accordance with National Accounts Revisions Policy. Data in this release have been revised back to January 2019, compared with trade figures published in our previous trade bulletin on 13 January 2020. Data in this release are consistent with estimates published in the gross domestic product (GDP) first quarterly estimate also published on 11 February 2020 for Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019.

GDP balancing

Balancing adjustments are a regular part of the GDP process and are applied to components, including trade, in order to improve the quarterly path alignment of the three measures. In most instances, these adjustments are a smaller contributor to the overall component movements but for Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019, larger than usual GDP balancing adjustments have been applied, resulting in a large impact on the overall trade figures. Further details on the size of these revisions can be found in Section 3 and Section 10 of this release. More detailed information can be found in the GDP release.

National Statistics designation status

The UKSA suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade on 14 November 2014. We have now responded to all of the specific requirements of the reassessment of UK trade and, as part of our engagement with the Office for Statistics Regulation team, we are sharing our continuous improvement and development plans to support UK trade statistics regaining National Statistics status. We welcome feedback on our new trade statistics, developments and future plans. If you have any comments, please email them to trade@ons.gov.uk.

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.

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 because of the timeliness of source data. For example, the June 2020 publication will include data up to the end of April 2020.

Upcoming changes

From 11 March 2020 onwards, we plan to bring in some changes to our monthly trade release. These will be mainly structural changes, aimed to improve the user-friendliness of the bulletin. New sections will be added such as “Strengths and limitations”, “Measuring the data” and “Glossary”. Please feel free to email us at trade@ons.gov.uk if you have any feedback about the new design.

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 they often mask the underlying trend in the export or import values because of their volatility. The “erratics” series includes ships, aircraft, precious stones, silver and non-monetary gold.

Precious metals

Precious metals includes non-monetary gold, silver, platinum and palladium and forms part of the commodity group “unspecified goods”. Non-monetary gold, which is gold bullion not owned by central banks, comprises the majority of this group.

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.

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.

Therefore, in this release and in the accompanying publications tables, we present time series data for precious metals as well as total trade excluding this commodity, which may provide a better guide to the emerging trade picture.

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 the respective 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 in 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.

The base year

Because of a very demanding set of changes in the 2019 national accounts annual update, we have not fully reconciled 2017 annual data, instead producing an indicative balance to allow further time for final quality assurance of the data. Consequently, the reference year and last base year for all chained volume measure (CVM) series remains as 2016.

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3. The total trade deficit, excluding precious metals, widened in Quarter 4 2019

The total trade deficit (goods and services), excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, widened by £4.0 billion to £6.5 billion in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019. This was because of exports falling by £6.0 billion to £168.1 billion, which was partly offset by imports falling by £2.0 billion to £174.6 billion (Figure 1).

The widening of the total trade deficit, excluding precious metals, was because of a narrowing of the trade in services surplus, which was partly offset by a narrowing of the trade in goods deficit. The trade in services surplus narrowed by £5.1 billion to £21.0 billion, driven by a £4.3 billion fall in services exports to £77.0 billion. Falling exports were partly offset by a £0.8 billion rise in services imports to £56.1 billion. Falling exports of services were seen across most service types and were largely driven by other business services; financial services; and telecommunications, computer and information services. The adjustments taken on from GDP balancing drove a fall in the trade in services surplus of £4.5 billion in Quarter 4 2019. Exports of services were adjusted down by £1.3 billion, while imports were adjusted up by £3.3 billion. Excluding the GDP balancing adjustments, the trade in services surplus saw a narrowing of £2.1 billion to £25.5 billion in Quarter 4 2019. Further details on these revisions can be found in Section 10 of this release.

The trade in goods deficit, excluding precious metals, narrowed by £1.1 billion to £27.5 billion, driven by a £2.8 billion fall in goods imports to £118.6 billion. Falling imports were partly offset by a £1.7 billion fall in goods exports to £91.1 billion. Falling goods imports in Quarter 4 2019 were largely because of a £2.2 billion decrease in machinery and transport equipment, partly offset by a £0.9 billion rise in fuels. The fall in goods exports was largely because of fuels and chemicals, which both fell by £0.5 billion, as well as material manufactures and machinery and transport equipment, which both fell by £0.4 billion.

Precious metals, which includes non-monetary gold, saw large increases in exports in Quarter 4 2019, with exports rising £11.2 billion to £12.4 billion. Imports of precious metals fell by a lesser £2.1 billion. Including precious metals, the total trade balance increased by £9.3 billion from a deficit of £3.4 billion to a surplus of £5.9 billion in Quarter 4 2019. The trade in goods deficit, including precious metals, narrowed by £14.4 billion to £15.1 billion (Figure 2, Table 1).

The £11.2 billion rise in exports of precious metals contributed to a £11.3 billion rise in exports of unspecified goods (which includes non-monetary gold). Therefore, excluding unspecified goods, the total trade deficit widened by £4.0 billion to £6.6 billion in Quarter 4 2019, and the trade in goods deficit narrowed by £1.1 billion to £27.5 billion.

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4. The precious metals deficit narrowed in 2019

While precious metals, including non-monetary gold, saw large increases in exports in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019, this was largely offset by the erratic patterns seen in this commodity group in 2019 (Figure 3).

The precious metals deficit narrowed by £2.0 billion to £0.6 billion in 2019. This was because of a £13.3 billion rise in exports of precious metals to £15.0 billion, partly offset by an £11.3 billion rise in imports to £15.5 billion.

The largest increase in exports of precious metals was seen in Quarter 4 2019, with an £11.2 billion rise to £12.4 billion. The largest increase in imports of precious metals was seen in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2019, with a £10.2 billion rise to £10.9 billion.

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5. The trade in goods deficit, excluding unspecified goods, widened with non-EU countries and narrowed with EU countries in Quarter 4 2019

The trade in goods deficit, excluding unspecified goods (which includes non-monetary gold), narrowed by £1.2 billion to £21.9 billion with EU countries in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019. The trade in goods deficit, excluding unspecified goods, with non-EU countries widened by £0.1 billion to £5.6 billion (Figure 4).

The narrowing of the goods deficit, excluding unspecified goods, with EU countries was largely because of a £1.2 billion fall in goods imports to £64.3 billion, while exports rose by £0.1 billion to £42.3 billion. Falling goods imports were largely seen in machinery and transport equipment and material manufactures, which decreased by £0.6 billion and £0.4 billion respectively.

The widening of the goods deficit, excluding unspecified goods, with non-EU countries was because of a £1.8 billion fall in goods exports to £48.3 billion, largely offset by a £1.7 billion fall in goods imports to £53.9 billion. Falling goods exports were largely seen in fuels, chemicals, and machinery and transport equipment, which decreased by £1.0 billion, £0.5 billion and £0.3 billion respectively. Falling goods imports were largely because of machinery and transport equipment and miscellaneous manfactures, which fell by £1.7 billion and £0.6 billion respectively, partly offset by a £1.1 billion rise in fuel imports.

Unspecified goods saw large increases in exports to non-EU countries in Quarter 4 2019. Exports rose by £11.1 billion, while imports fell by £2.0 billion. This drove the trade in goods balance with non-EU countries to increase by £13.0 billion to a surplus of £6.6 billion.

Exports of unspecified goods to EU countries increased by a lesser £0.1 billion. Therefore, the total trade in goods deficit with EU countries narrowed by £1.4 billion to £21.7 billion.

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6. Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade surplus, excluding unspecified goods, widened in Quarter 4 2019

This section presents volume and price estimates of 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.

In volume terms, the total trade deficit (goods and services), excluding unspecified goods (which includes non-monetary gold), widened by £4.3 billion to £4.1 billion in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019. The widening of the deficit was largely because of a narrowing of the trade in services surplus, partly offset by a narrowing of the trade in goods deficit (Figure 5).

The trade in services surplus in volume terms narrowed by £6.2 billion to £18.6 billion in Quarter 4 2019. The narrowing of the surplus was largely because of a £5.0 billion fall in services exports to £71.3 billion, partly offset by a £1.2 billion rise in services imports to £52.7 billion.

The trade in goods deficit in volume terms, excluding unspecified goods, narrowed £1.9 billion to £22.7 billion, as exports rose £1.5 billion to £83.4 billion and imports fell £0.4 billion to £106.1 billion. Rising goods exports were largely seen in miscellaneous manufactures, and machinery and transport equipment, which both increased by £0.8 billion.

Unspecified goods saw rising exports in Quarter 4 2019, with exports rising by £10.1 billion. Imports of unspecified goods fell by a lesser £2.0 billion. Therefore, the total trade surplus in volume terms widened by £7.9 billion to £7.1 billion in Quarter 4 2019, driven by the trade in goods deficit narrowing by £14.1 billion to £11.5 billion.

Total trade import prices fell by 1.5% in Quarter 4 2019. This was mainly because of a 1.8% fall in goods import prices, while services import prices fell by 0.8%.

Total trade export prices fell by 1.2% in Quarter 4 2019. This was mainly because of a 3.4% fall in goods export prices, partly offset by a 1.3% rise in services export prices.

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7. Explore UK trade in goods country-by-commodity data for 2019 with our interactive tools

Our data break 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:
  1. 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 official statistics and no longer experimental.

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

  3. 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).

Use our interactive tools to understand UK trade of a particular commodity in 2019, for example, what percentage of UK car exports went to the EU or where the UK imports of tea and coffee came from.

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

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Notes:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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8. The total trade deficit narrowed in 2019

The total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed by £0.5 billion to £29.3 billion in 2019, mainly because of a narrowing of the trade in goods deficit of £9.7 billion to £129.6 billion. Exports increased by £32.5 billion to £689.0 billion, whereas imports increased by £32.0 billion to £718.3 billion (Figure 6, Table 2).

Exports of goods increased by £22.4 billion to £372.0 billion, while imports increased by a lesser £12.7 billion to £501.7 billion.

Rising exports of goods in 2019 were largely because of unspecified goods (which includes non-monetary gold) and miscellaneous manufactures, which increased by £13.4 billion and £8.5 billion respectively. This was partly offset by a fall of £4.1 billion in fuel exports.

The £12.7 billion increase of goods imports to £501.7 billion was driven by unspecified goods, miscellaneous manufactures, and machinery and transport equipment, which increased by £11.2 billion, £3.7 billion and £3.5 billion respectively. This was partly offset by a fall of £6.6 billion in fuel imports.

The trade in services surplus narrowed by £9.2 billion to £100.3 billion in 2019, as imports increased by £19.3 billion to £216.6 billion and exports increased by a lesser £10.1 billion to £317.0 billion.

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9. The trade in goods deficit widened with EU countries but narrowed with non-EU countries in 2019

The £9.7 billion narrowing of the trade in goods deficit to £129.6 billion in 2019 was mainly because of the narrowing of the trade deficit with non-EU countries. The trade in goods deficit with non-EU countries narrowed by £10.8 billion to £35.1 billion, and this was only partly offset by the £1.0 billion widening to £94.5 billion of the trade in goods deficit with EU countries (Figure 7).

Exports to non-EU countries increased by £24.1 billion in 2019 but were partly offset by a £13.3 billion increase in imports. Imports from EU countries decreased by £0.6 billion in 2019, while exports also decreased by a larger £1.6 billion.

The increase in exports to non-EU countries was largely because of unspecified goods and miscellaneous manufactures, which increased by £13.0 billion and £7.3 billion respectively, partly offset by a fall of £3.0 billion in fuel imports.

The increase in imports from non-EU countries was driven by unspecified goods, machinery and transport equipment, and miscellaneous manufactures, which increased by £11.4 billion, £2.5 billion and £2.2 billion respectively. This was partly offset by fuels, which decreased by £3.7 billion.

The largest contributors to the fall in exports to EU countries were chemicals, material manufactures, and fuels which fell by £3.0 billion, £1.3 billion and £1.1 billion respectively.

The fall in imports from EU countries was driven by fuels and material manufactures, which fell by £2.9 billion and £0.8 billion respectively.

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10. Revisions

In accordance with the National Accounts Revisions Policy, trade data in this release have been revised from January 2019.

The largest monthly revisions were seen in October and November 2019, where the total trade deficits were revised down (widening of the deficit) by £2.3 billion and £2.2 billion respectively (Figure 8). This was because of downwards revisions to services exports as well as upwards revisions to services imports.

In addition to the inclusion of later trade survey data, the revisions also include the impact of gross domestic product (GDP) balancing adjustments that are applied to component series (which includes trade) to improve the GDP quarterly alignment position. For Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019, these adjustments drove a fall in the trade in services surplus. Exports of services were adjusted down by £1.3 billion to £77.0 billion, while imports of services were adjusted up by £4.5 billion to £57.1 billion. The resulting trade in services surplus for Quarter 4 2019 was adjusted down by £5.8 billion to a surplus of £20.9 billion (Table 3).

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11. UK trade data

UK trade: goods and services publication tables
Dataset | Released 11 February 2020
Monthly data on the UK’s trade in goods and services, including trade inside and outside the EU.

UK trade time series
Dataset | MRET | Released 11 February 2020
Monthly value of UK exports and imports of goods and services by current price, chained volume measures (CVMs) and implied deflators (IDEFs). View all data used in this statistical bulletin on the Related data page.12. Related links

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13. 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, with 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 (current price (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 accompanying datasets. This includes data on:

Detailed methodological notes are published in the UK Balance of Payments, The Pink Book: 2019.

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

More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the UK trade QMI.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Abi Casey
trade@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455121