UK trade: February 2016

The total value of UK imports and exports of goods together with indices of volume and price, including an early monthly estimate of the value of trade in services.

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Contact:
Email Katherine Kent

Release date:
8 April 2016

Next release:
10 May 2016

1. Main points for February 2016

UK trade shows import and export activity and is a main contributor to the overall economic growth of the UK. All data are shown on a seasonally adjusted, balance of payments basis, at current prices unless otherwise stated.

The UK’s deficit on trade in goods and services was estimated to have been £4.8 billion in February 2016, a narrowing of £0.4 billion from the revised deficit for January 2016. The narrowing is attributed to both trade in goods and trade in services. The trade in goods deficit has narrowed from £12.2 billion in January 2016, to £12.0 billion in February 2016. The trade in services surplus increased from £6.9 billion in January 2016, to £7.1 billion in February 2016.

The narrowing of the trade in goods deficit between January 2016 and February 2016 reflected an increase in exports of £0.3 billion to £23.2 billion; attributed to a rise in chemicals.

Between the 3 months to November 2015 and the 3 months to February 2016, the total trade deficit (goods and services) widened by £3.8 billion to £13.7 billion. This is the largest 3 monthly deficit since the 3 months to March 2008, when the deficit was £14.4 billion.

Between the 3 months to November 2015 and the 3 months to February 2016, the trade in goods deficit widened by £3.0 billion to £34.6 billion. This widening reflects a £1.7 billion fall in exports of goods (of which, oil fell by £0.7 billion and other fuels by £0.4 billion).

In the 3 months to February 2016, the UK's trade in goods deficit with the EU was £23.8 billion - the widest on record; reflecting a 1.3% decrease in exports and a 1.1% increase in imports. The deficit for the previous 3 months (to November 2015) was £22.8 billion, the second largest on record. Prior to these periods, the most recent record deficit with the EU occurred in the 3 months to February 2015 when the deficit reached £22.4 billion.

Between the 3 months to November 2015 and the 3 months to February 2016, the trade in services surplus narrowed by £0.8 billion to £20.9 billion attributed to both a fall in exports and a rise in imports.

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2. Main figures for February 2016

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3. Understanding and working with UK trade statistics

Short guide to UK trade

UK Trade shows the extent of import and export activity and is an important contributor to the overall economic growth of the UK. Trade is measured through both imports and exports of goods and/or services. Data are supplied by over 30 sources including several administrative sources, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) being the largest.

This monthly release contains tables showing the total value of trade in goods together with index numbers of volume and price. Figures are analysed by broad commodity group (values and indices) and according to geographical area (values only). In addition, the UK Trade statistical bulletin also includes early monthly estimates of the value of trade in services.

This bulletin focuses on trade in goods due to the coverage and comprehensiveness of the administrative data sources available for goods as it is easier to quantify and measure. Trade in services is more difficult to measure, and source data is provided mainly on a quarterly or annual basis principally from ITIS (International Trade in Services survey). Monthly estimates are derived using this quarterly data; therefore the data are less robust on a monthly basis compared with goods.

As more information becomes available on trade in services this bulletin will focus on the values, volumes and geographic breakdown on a 3 monthly cycle described below:

Our website

The UK trade methodology web pages can now be found on our website. These have been developed to provide detailed information about the methods used to produce UK trade statistics. Any recent user requested trade data are included on our website.

Understanding UK trade

We make every effort to provide informative commentary on the data in this release. Where possible, the commentary draws on evidence from other sources of information to help explain possible reasons behind the observed changes. However, in some instances it can prove difficult to draw out detailed reasons for movements; consequently, it is not possible for all data movements to be fully explained.

Trade statistics for any one month can be erratic. For that reason, it is recommended to compare the latest 3 months against the preceding 3 months and the same 3 months of the previous year.

When examining the trade in goods data, oil and “erratics”, which are high value, low volume products, are removed from some analysis as they are extremely influential on trade in goods as a whole. Therefore we publish data inclusive and exclusive of these categories. We also provide a separate analysis of oil because it is subject to erratic price fluctuations and therefore volume data is provided in metric tonnes as well as value (£ million).

Strengths and weaknesses of the data

Strengths

Quality of trade in goods data

The quality of the source data for trade in goods is high in terms of the timeliness, comprehensiveness and coverage and this level of quality compares well internationally. The data are used across government, business and academia and feed into a number of other outputs and publications; including GDP and balance of payments. The Bank of England uses the total figures to make policy decisions, whereas government departments such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are interested in the individual country detail.

We have frequent communication with our suppliers to discuss quality, including regular meetings, telephone conversations and email correspondence. Service level agreements are in place to define the level of quality expected in the data received and these are reviewed annually. Data suppliers have their own internal quality assurance processes to meet the quality standards outlined in the service level agreements and we work closely with them to understand these. Suppliers are required to advise us of any changes to the collection or processing of the data to ensure our expectations are still met.

When data is received by the trade team we conduct our own initial quality assurance. Further quality analysis is then conducted at several stages of processing; this is detailed in a process map and quality assurance plan. If there are any quality concerns we work closely with the supplier to address these.

We have regular discussions with users on the quality of our data and provide comprehensive explanations of the terms, methodology and processes we use. Eurostat is an important customer influence and helps improve the quality of our data through task force meetings and by producing quality guidelines.

Timeliness of publications

The UK trade publication is very timely (generally 40 days after the period to which it refers), helping to inform policy and to assess UK economic performance.

Weaknesses

Quality and timeliness of trade in services data

Where trade in goods has one main data supplier, there are a large number of suppliers of trade in services data. Additionally, a number are voluntary, so it can be difficult to establish and maintain the same quality assurance processes and relationships with these businesses or suppliers.

Due to the collection methods and complexities of quantifying trade in services, data is less timely than trade in goods estimates. The data is processed quarterly, so monthly forecasts are made to provide a complete trade total.

Monthly volatility

Trade statistics for any one month can be erratic. For that reason, we recommend comparing the latest 3 months against the preceding 3 months and the same 3 months of the previous year, however we also recognise the importance to users of an early estimate of trade therefore we continue to produce a monthly estimate.

UK trade National Statistics suspension

Due to a series of errors during 2014, the UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade on 14 November 2014. The Authority's reassessment of UK trade against the Code of Practice for Official Statistics has been completed. We are committed to meeting the requirements and regaining National Statistics status for UK trade as soon as possible and will keep you informed of progress.

One of the recommendations of the reassessment was to consult with users on the use of UK trade statistics. The results of this user engagement survey can be found on our website.

To provide feedback on the bulletin please contact us via email trade@ons.gov.uk

The trade development plan has now been launched for consultation. We are seeking feedback by 27 May 2016, any comments or feedback should be directed to the UK trade inbox (trade@ons.gov.uk)

Definitions and explanations

A glossary of terms is published in the UK trade glossary and the UK Balance of Payments - The Pink Book, 2015.

Nonmonetary gold

According to internationally agreed standards, nonmonetary gold held in allocated accounts is recorded a as good; therefore, gold of this type which is being stored as a financial asset is recognised under trade in goods when ownership changes between a resident and non-resident.

Data are collected by the Bank of England from the London Bullion Market on holdings of nonmonetary gold. Working alongside the Bank of England and the London Bullion Market Association we have implemented a method for smoothing the source data; effectively minimising volatility whilst enabling the underlying trend of the gold market to be reflected in the trade balance.

Estimates for trade in nonmonetary gold still remain volatile compared with other commodities and, as such, is classified under erratics.

Use of the data

UK trade is a main economic indicator due to the importance of international trade to the UK economy. It is also a very timely statistic, providing an early indicator of what is happening more generally in the economy.

In addition, it is a major component of 2 other main economic indicators: UK gross domestic product (GDP) and the UK balance of payments. This means that there is a threefold potential for UK trade statistics to inform the government’s view of the UK economy, as well as the views of others, such as economists, city analysts, academics, the media and international organisations.

Notes on tables

Rounding: The sum of constituent items in tables does not always agree exactly with the totals shown due to rounding.

Symbols: .. Not applicable - Nil or less than half the final digit shown.

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4. Summary of latest UK trade statistics

Monthly analysis

The deficit on trade in goods and services in February 2016 was £4.8 billion, compared with a deficit of £5.2 billion in January 2016. The trade position reflects exports minus imports; the narrowing of the deficit was attributed to an increase in exports between January 2016 and February 2016.

Between January 2016 and February 2016, total exports increased by £0.4 billion (0.9%) to £42.1 billion. This increase comprised a £0.3 billion rise in the export of goods and a £0.1 billion rise in the export of services. Total imports decreased by £17.0 million to £46.9 billion over the same period.

The deficit on trade in goods was £12.0 billion in February 2016; narrowing by £0.2 billion from January 2016. This narrowing reflected an increase in exports (up £0.3 billion to £23.2 billion); mainly attributed to a £0.5 billion increase in the export of chemicals. There was a £0.3 billion increase in organic chemicals and a £0.2 billion increase in pharmaceutical products; anecdotal evidence suggests the largest increases in exports of chemical products were to the US and Germany.

Between January 2016 and February 2016, imports of goods increased by £0.1 billion. There were increases in aircraft (£0.5 billion), mechanical machinery (£0.4 billion) and jewellery (£0.2 billion); these increases were offset by a £1.8 billion fall in imports of unspecified goods as imports of nonmonetary gold in January 2016 were the highest since December 2014. Excluding erratics, imports of goods increased by £1.3 billion.

Exports to EU countries rose by £0.4 billion between January 2016 and February 2016; there was a £0.3 billion increase in chemical exports. Over the same period, imports of goods from EU countries increased by £1.2 billion, to a record £20.0 billion; the largest increases were in aircraft, which increased by £0.4 billion and cars, with an increase of £0.2 billion. There were also increases in the import of chemicals, electrical machinery, food and live animals, jewellery and oil of £0.1 billion each. These movements resulted in a widening of the trade in goods deficit with EU countries by £0.8 billion, to a record monthly deficit of £8.6 billion in February 2016.

Between January 2016 and February 2016, exports of goods to countries outside the EU decreased by £0.1 billion. There was a £0.2 billion fall in exports of cars and £0.1 billion falls in each of fuels, mechanical machinery, non-ferrous metals and unspecified goods*; these decreases were offset by a £0.3 billion increase in chemicals. Imports from countries outside the EU fell by £1.1 billion; specifically unspecified goods*, which fell by £1.8 billion. The fall in imports resulted in a £1.0 billion narrowing of the deficit with non-EU countries to £3.4 billion.

*Unspecified goods include parcel post and low value trade and, most notably, nonmonetary gold.

3 monthly analysis

Between the 3 months to November 2015 and the 3 months to February 2016, the total trade deficit (goods and services) widened by £3.8 billion to £13.7 billion.

The deficit on trade in goods widened by £3.0 billion to £34.6 billion. Exports of goods fell by £1.7 billion, to £69.0 billion reflecting a £1.1 billion decrease in the export of fuels, a £0.6 billion decrease in unspecified goods* and a £0.4 billion decrease in chemical exports; these decreases were offset by an increase in the export of cars of £0.4 billion, reaching a record high of £6.9 billion in the 3 months to February 2016. Imports increased by £1.4 billion due to a £2.4 billion increase in unspecified goods*, £0.5 billion increase in mechanical machinery and a £0.4 billion increase in chemicals. These increased were offset by a £2.1 billion decrease in imports of fuels.

The trade in goods deficit with EU countries for the 3 months to February 2016 was £23.8 billion - the widest on record; reflecting a 1.3% decrease in exports and a 1.1% increase in imports. The deficit for the 3 months to November 2015 was £22.8 billion, the second largest on record. Prior to these periods, the most recent record deficit with the EU occurred in the 3 months to February 2015 when the deficit reached £22.4 billion.

Between the 3 months to November 2015 and the 3 months to February 2016, exports of goods to EU countries fell by £0.4 billion due to exports of fuels which fell by £0.6 billion, this was offset by an increase in chemical exports, which rose by £0.3 billion. Imports from the EU increased by £0.6 billion, with increases in imports of chemicals (up £0.4 billion) and mechanical machinery (up £0.3 billion). This resulted in a widening of the trade in goods deficit with EU countries to a record level of £23.8 billion in the 3 months to February 2016.

There was a trade in goods deficit with non-EU countries of £10.7 billion in the 3 months to February 2016, a widening of £2.0 billion from the 3 months to November 2015. Exports of goods to countries outside the EU fell by £1.2 billion; there was a £0.5 billion decrease in the export of fuels and a £0.7 billion decrease in the export of chemicals. These decreases were partially offset by a £0.5 billion increase in exports of cars. Imports from countries outside the EU rose by £0.7 billion, reflecting a £2.4 billion increase in unspecified goods*.

*Unspecified goods include parcel post and low value trade and, most notably, nonmonetary gold.

Revisions

The total trade (goods and services) deficit for January 2016 has been revised downwards by £1.8 billion. This is attributed to a £2.2 billion revision to imports of non-EU goods; specifically nonmonetary gold. Due to the timing of gold survey data, the nonmonetary gold estimate for the current month is forecast and later revised when more accurate data become available. The nonmonetary gold import value for January 2016, which replaces the forecast was the highest since December 2014, causing this large revision.

Due to the magnitude of the revision to imports in January 2016, the £0.2 billion narrowing of the trade deficit (between December 2015 and January 2016) originally reported in the January UK trade release is now a £1.6 billion widening.

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5. Longer-term perspective

International comparisons

The performance of trade has varied greatly among the G7 economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA) and China. Figure 2 compares the UK net trade in goods balance with the selected economies and breaks this down into its constituent parts - exports and imports of goods. In 2014, the UK’s trade in goods balance remained weak in comparison to its G7 counterparts and China; experiencing the lowest net trade in goods balance as a proportion of GDP. However, this is attributable to a relatively large level of exports, offset by even higher imports.

While the UK experienced a large deficit on trade in goods compared with the G7 economies, the total trade balance deterioration has been less marked due to a partially offsetting surplus on trade in services. Figure 3 replicates figure 2, but for the services trade. In 2014, the UK’s trade in services surplus accounted for 4.9% of its GDP; the highest level in comparison with the other G7 economies and China. This was attributable to a large level of services exports (12.1% of GDP), only partially offset by a services import level of 7.2% of GDP. The trend of services surpluses and goods deficits was also true in the US. In contrast, China, Germany and Italy experienced goods surpluses and services deficits - indicative of the relative industrial strength of these economies.

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6. Value of UK trade in goods

Monthly commentary

In February 2016, the UK’s deficit on trade in goods was £12.0 billion, narrowing by £0.2 billion from January 2016.

Exports increased by £0.3 billion (1.3%) to £23.2 billion in February 2016, from £22.9 billion in January 2016.

In detail:

  • chemicals rose by £0.5 billion (13.0%) to £4.6 billion
  • this increase was partially offset by a decrease in machinery and transport equipment which fell by £0.1 billion (0.8%) to £9.1 billion

Imports increased by £0.1 billion (0.3%) to £35.2 billion in February 2016, from £35.1 billion in January 2016.

In detail:

  • machinery and transport equipment rose by £1.3 billion (10.7%) to £13.9 billion
  • miscellaneous manufactures rose by £0.3 billion (4.9%) to £6.0 billion
  • these increases were partially offset by a decrease in unspecified goods which fell by £1.8 billion (71.9%) to £0.7 billion

3 monthly analysis

In the 3 months to February 2016, the deficit on trade in goods was £34.6 billion, widening by £3.0 billion from the 3 months to November 2015.

Exports decreased by £1.7 billion (2.3%) to £69.0 billion in the 3 months to February 2016, compared with £70.7 billion in the 3 months to November 2015.

In detail:

  • fuels fell by £1.1 billion (20.7%) to £4.4 billion
  • hemicals fell by £0.4 billion (3.0%) to £12.6 billion

Imports increased by £1.4 billion (1.3%) to £103.6 billion in the 3 months to February 2016, compared with £102.2 billion in the 3 months to November 2015.

In detail:

  • unspecified goods rose by £2.4 billion (115.7%) to £4.4 billion
  • miscellaneous manufactures rose by £0.5 billion (3.3%) to a record high £17.2 billion
  • chemicals rose by £0.4 billion (3.3%) to a record high £13.6 billion
  • these increases were partially offset by a decrease in fuels which fell by £2.1 billion (23.1%) to £7.0 billion

At the main commodity level, the data are shown in Table 2.

Where to find data about UK trade in goods

The value of trade in goods figures are available in Table 1 and commodity figures are available in Tables 8, 9 and 10 of the dataset of the tables.

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7. Trade in goods – analysis by area

In February 2016, the deficit on trade in goods with EU countries widened by £0.8 billion to a record £8.6 billion. The deficit on trade in goods with non-EU countries narrowed by £1.0 billion to £3.4 billion (Figure 6).

In the 3 months to February 2016, the deficit on trade in goods with EU countries widened by £1.0 billion to a record £23.8 billion. Over the same period, the deficit on trade in goods with non-EU countries widened by £2.0 billion to £10.7 billion.

EU analysis

Between January 2016 and February 2016, exports to the EU increased by £0.4 billion (4.0%) to £11.3 billion. This was attributed to an increase in exports to Germany of £0.3 billion and to Sweden of £0.1 billion.

Between January 2016 and February 2016, imports from the EU increased by £1.2 billion (6.7%) to a record high £19.9 billion. This was attributed to increases in imports from both France and Germany of £0.4 billion each, from the Netherlands of £0.2 billion and from Belgium and Luxembourg (combined), Italy and Poland of £0.1 billion each. These increases were offset by a decrease in imports from Sweden of £0.1 billion.

Between the 3 months to November 2015 and the 3 months to February 2016, exports to the EU decreased by £0.4 billion (1.3%) to £33.0 billion. This was attributed to decreases in exports to both Belgium and Luxembourg (combined) and the Irish Republic of £0.3 billion each and to France of £0.2 billion. These decreases were offset by an increase in exports to Germany of £0.2 billion.

Between the 3 months to November 2015 and the 3 months to February 2016, imports from the EU increased by £0.6 billion (1.1%) to £56.9 billion. This was attributed to increases in imports from the Netherlands of £0.8 billion, Belgium and Luxembourg (combined) of £0.3 billion and from Italy of £0.2 billion. These increases were offset by a decrease in imports from Germany of £0.9 billion.

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 3.

Non-EU analysis

Between January 2016 and February 2016, exports to non-EU countries decreased by £0.1 billion (1.1%) to £11.9 billion. This was attributed to decreases in exports to the USA of £0.2 billion and to Australia, China and Japan of £0.1 billion each. These decreases were offset by increases in exports to South Korea of £0.2 billion and to Morocco of £0.1 billion.

Between January 2016 and February 2016, imports from non-EU countries decreased by £1.1 billion (6.9%) to £15.3 billion. This was attributed to decreases in imports from Canada of £1.0 billion, the USA of £0.3 billion, Norway of £0.2 billion and from Mexico, Singapore and South Africa of £0.1 billion each. These decreases were offset by an increase in imports from Qatar of £0.2 billion.

Between the 3 months to November 2015 and the 3 months to February 2016, exports to non-EU countries decreased by £1.2 billion (3.3%) to £36.0 billion. This was attributed to decreases in exports to the USA of £1.3 billion and Saudi Arabia of £0.3 billion. These decreases were offset by an increase in exports to China of £0.4 billion and to Canada of £0.2 billion.

Between the 3 months to November 2015 and the 3 months to February 2016, imports from non-EU countries increased by £0.7 billion (1.6%) to £46.7 billion. This was attributed to increases in imports from Canada of £1.7 billion and the USA of £0.4 billion. These increases were offset by decreases in imports from Norway of £0.4 billion and China, India, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa of £0.2 billion each.

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 4.

Where to find data about UK trade in goods – analysis by area

Trade in goods by area figures are available in Table 2 and value of trade in goods with selected EU and non-EU trading partner figures are available in Tables 11 and 12 of the dataset of the tables.

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8. Trade in goods – geographical analysis

Monthly analysis

The USA remained the UK’s top export partner with exports of £3.7 billion in February 2016, decreasing by £0.2 billion when compared with January 2016.

Germany remained the UK’s top import partner with imports of £5.1 billion in February 2016, increasing by £0.4 billion when compared with January 2016. Anecdotal evidence suggests this increase was due to a rise in the import of chemicals, semi-manufactures and machinery and transport equipment.

3 monthly analysis

In the 3 months to February 2016, the USA remained the UK’s top export partner with exports of £10.9 billion, decreasing by £1.3 billion when compared with the 3 months to November 2015. Anecdotal evidence suggests this is due to a fall in the export of beverages and tobacco and chemicals.

In the 3 months to February 2016, Germany remained the UK’s top import partner with imports of £14.7 billion, decreasing by £0.9 billion when compared with the 3 months to November 2015. Anecdotal evidence suggests this is due to a fall in the import of chemicals.

In the 3 months to February 2016, there were record high imports from Belgium and Luxembourg (combined) and the Czech Republic. Imports from Belgium and Luxembourg (combined) increased by 6.3% to £5.8 billion and from the Czech Republic by 4.4% to £1.4 billion.

Where to find data about UK trade in goods – geographical analysis

Trade in goods by area figures are available in Table 2 and value of trade in goods with selected EU and non-EU trading partner figures are available in Tables 11 and 12 of the dataset of the tables.

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9. Volume of total trade in goods, excluding oil and erratics

Between January 2016 and February 2016, the volume of exports increased by 0.2%:

  • chemicals rose by 15.7%
  • consumer goods other than cars rose by 1.7%

Between January 2016 and February 2016, the volume of imports increased by 4.4%:

  • intermediate goods rose by 10.2%
  • consumer goods other than cars rose by 6.3%
  • capital goods rose by 6.2%

In the 3 months to February 2016, the volume of exports decreased by 2.9% when compared with the 3 months to November 2015:

  • chemicals fell by 4.8%
  • capital goods fell by 3.7%

In the 3 months to February 2016, the volume of imports increased by 0.8% when compared with the 3 months to November 2015:

  • intermediate goods rose by 2.8%
  • consumer goods other than cars rose by 1.2%

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 7.

Where to find data about volume of total trade in goods, excluding oil and erratics

The volume of total trade in goods, excluding oil and erratics figures are available in Table 3 of the dataset of the tables.

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10. Export and import prices for trade in goods (not seasonally adjusted)

In February 2016, compared with January 2016, export prices decreased by 0.2% and import prices increased by 0.5%. Excluding the oil price effect, export prices decreased by 0.1% and import prices increased by 0.6%.

In the 3 months to February 2016, when compared with the 3 months to November 2015, export prices increased by 1.0% and import prices increased by 0.2%. Excluding the oil price effect, export prices increased by 2.6% and import prices increased by 1.5%.

Where to find data about export and import prices for trade in goods (not seasonally adjusted)

The export and import prices for trade in goods (not seasonally adjusted) figures are available in Table 3 of the dataset of the tables.

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11. Trade in oil

In February 2016, the balance of trade in oil was in deficit by £0.4 billion, an increase of £0.2 billion when compared with January 2016. Oil exports remained unchanged and oil imports decreased by £0.2 billion to £1.6 billion.

In the 3 months to February 2016, the balance on trade in oil was in deficit by £1.3 billion, narrowing by £0.8 billion when compared with the 3 months to November 2015. Oil exports decreased by £0.7 billion to £3.9 billion and oil imports decreased by £1.6 billion to £5.3 billion.

Where to find data about trade in oil

The trade in oil figures are available in Tables 1 and 7 of the dataset of the tables.

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12. Trade in services

In February 2016, the UK’s estimated surplus on trade in services was £7.1 billion.

Exports in February 2016 were estimated to have been £18.8 billion and imports £11.7 billion.

Information on trade in services is mainly obtained from quarterly surveys, in some cases underpinned by larger annual surveys. This means that the latest months are uncertain.

In Quarter 4 (October to December) 2015, the surplus on trade in services was £21.1 billion; financial services was the largest contributor with a surplus of £10.3 billion.

Between Quarter 3 (July to September) 2015 and Quarter 4 (October to December) 2015, exports of services decreased by £0.5 billion to £56.6 billion, the main contributors to this decrease were other business services and travel services, which fell by £1.3 billion and £0.4 billion respectively. These decreases were partially offset by an increase in insurance and pension services of £1.1 billion. For the same period, imports of services increased by £1.3 billion to £35.5 billion, the main contributors to the increase were other business services and travel services which increased by £0.5 billion each.

EU and non-EU analysis

Between Quarter 3 (July to September) 2015 and Quarter 4 (October to December) 2015, exports of services to EU countries rose by £0.2 billion to £22.3 billion. Imports from the EU rose by £0.3 billion to £17.3 billion over the same period.

The balance of trade in services with non-EU countries narrowed by £1.7 billion between Quarter 3 (July to September) 2015 and Quarter 4 (October to December) 2015, to £16.0 billion. This decrease reflected a fall in exports of £0.7 billion and an increase in imports of £1.1 billion.

In Quarter 4 (October to December) 2015, the largest trade in services surplus was with the USA (£5.8 billion), this was greater than the surplus with EU countries of £5.1 billion.

A further breakdown of non-EU countries can found in the Quarter 4 (October to December) 2015 United Kingdom Economic Accounts.

Revisions

Between the January 2016 and February 2016 UK trade publication, the 2015 surplus for trade in services has been revised down by £43.0 million; although this revision in balance is negligible, both exports and imports have experienced upward revisions of £0.5 billion. The main contributors for the upwards revision in exports were telecommunications, computer and information services (£1.3 billion), insurance and pension services (£1.0 billion) and financial services (£0.7 billion). These upwards revisions were partially offset by downwards revisions in the export of other business services (£1.5 billion) and transport services (£1.0 billion). The main contributors for the upwards revision in imports were other business services (£0.6 billion) and telecommunications, computer and information services (£0.5 billion). These upwards revisions in imports were partially offset by transport services (£0.3 billion) and government services (£0.2 billion).

Between the January 2016 and February 2016 UK trade publication, the Quarter 4 (October to December) 2015 surplus for trade in services has been revised up by £0.2 billion, which reflects upwards revisions of £0.7 billion in exports and £0.5 billion in imports. The main contributors to the upwards revision in exports were insurance and pension services (£1.0 billion) and telecommunications, computer and information services (£0.8 billion), partially offset by a downwards revision in the export of other business services (£1.2 billion). The main contributor to the upwards revision in imports was other business services (£0.5 billion) and telecommunications, computer and information services (£0.2 billion), partially offset by a downwards revision in the import of transport services (£0.2 billion).

Revisions to 2015 since previous two publications

In the December 2015 UK trade publication the first opportunity to measure 2015 as a whole, exports of services were estimated at £226.8 billion for 2015, revised down to £225.6 billion in the January 2016 publication and now revised upward to £226.0 billion in the February 2016 publication. The overall decrease to exports between the UK trade publications in December 2015 and February 2016 of £0.7 billion is primarily due to downward revisions in transport services and travel services both of £0.8 billion; these were offset by an upward revision in telecommunications, computer and information services of £1.0 billion.

In the December 2015 UK trade publication, 2015 imports of services were estimated at £136.5 million, revised to £136.9 billion in the January 2016 publication and now revised upward further to £137.3 billion in the February 2016 publication. The overall upward revision to imports between the UK trade publications in December 2015 and February 2016 of £0.9 billion is primarily due to increases in transport services of £3.8 billion and other business services of £2.4 billion; these were partially offset by decreases in insurance services, financial services and government services of £1.2 billion, £3.4 billion and £0.6 billion respectively.

Revisions are attributed to replacing forecasts with estimates from quarterly surveys and administrative data sources.

Where to find data about trade in services

The trade in services figures are available in Table 1 CONT. of the dataset of the tables.

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13. Where to find more information about UK trade statistics

Other regularly published UK trade releases

Supplementary quarterly data analysed by product according to the UK trade in goods by classification of product by activity (CPA 2008) are also available.

The latest release on 16 March 2016 covered the period Quarter 4 (October to December) 2015 and the data is consistent with UK trade January 2016 and contained revisions back to 2015. Following an internal review of our publications and a wider survey of users there is no longer a statistical bulletin associated with the release. Instead we have provided a longer-term commentary alongside the data tables.

The complete run of data in the tables of this statistical bulletin are also available to view and download in other electronic formats free of charge using our time series data website service. You can download the complete statistical bulletin in a choice of zipped formats, or view and download your own selections of individual series.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) publish Overseas trade statistics on the same day as we release the UK trade data each month. These aggregate estimates will differ slightly from those that are published by us as part of the Balance of Payments (BoP), as the 2 sets of data are compiled to different sets of rules. The BoP publication shows a high level picture of UK trade in goods, whereas the OTS publication shows a detailed picture of the UK’s trade in goods by commodity and partner country.

Recently published reports on UK trade topics

The Economic Review published 6 April 2016 contains information on trade as a percentage of GDP.

The Economic Review published 3 February 2016 includes analysis of trade with EU and non-EU countries.

On 29 January 2016 annual International trade in services survey results for 2014 were published. This release gives information on the industry of the businesses engaged in trade in services.

Historic articles published on UK trade

On 30 October 2015 we published the annual Balance of Payments Pink Book 2015 which as well as containing more detailed information on trade also provided an overview of the trade deficit in relation to the current account deficit.

In our Economic Review published on 3 September 2015 there is further commentary on UK export performance.

On 1 September 2015, we published an article on the economic performance of the UK’s motor vehicle manufacturing industry.

On 26 June 2015, we published a short story on the importance of EU to UK trade and investment.

On 9 June 2015, we published a short story on the importance of China to the UK economy, including the value of the UK trade with China.

On 6 February 2015, we published an article on the Rotterdam effect and its potential impact on the UK trade in goods estimates.

On 23 January 2015, we published a short story exploring the reasons behind the UK trade deficit.

Published user requested data and analysis

Additional statistical data and analyses for UK trade statistics that have not been included in our standard publications are available at the user requested data and analysis pages on our website.

Methodological articles

Detailed methodological notes are published in the UK Balance of Payments - The Pink Book, 2015.

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14. Revisions to trade statistics

Trade in goods revisions

In this release, periods from January 2016 are open for revision.

The revisions to trade in goods from January 2016 reflect revised data from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and other data suppliers, revised estimates of trading associated with VAT MTIC fraud, later survey data on trade prices and a re-assessment of seasonal factors.

Revisions to non monetary gold

Due to the timing of our gold survey data, the non monetary gold estimate in the latest UK Trade dataset is forecast. This will be revised when more accurate data becomes available.

Trade in services revisions

In this release, periods from January 2015 are open for revision.

The National accounts revision policy can be found on our website.

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15. Accuracy of the statistics

Accuracy: Trade in goods figures for the most recent months are provisional and subject to revision in the light of:

  • late trader data, revisions to trade prices and revised estimates of trading associated with VAT MTIC fraud
  • revisions to seasonal adjustment factors which are re-estimated every month

Trade in services estimates have been derived from a number of monthly and quarterly sources. For components where no monthly data are available, estimates have been derived on the basis of recent trends. The results should be used with appropriate caution, as they are likely to be less reliable than those for trade in goods.

Reliability: Revisions to data provide one indication of its reliability. Table 8 shows summary information on the size and direction of the revisions that have been made to the data covering a 5-year period. A statistical test has been applied to the average revision to find out if it is statistically significantly different from zero. An asterisk (*) shows that the test is significant.

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16. Other quality information

UK trade re-assessment

The UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade on 14 November 2014. The Authority's re-assessment of UK trade against the Code of Practice for Official Statistics has been completed.

One of the recommendations of the re-assessment was to consult with users on the use of UK trade statistics. The results of this user engagement survey can be found on our website.

Trade development plan

The trade development plan has now been launched for consultation. We are seeking feedback by 27 May 2016, any comments or feedback should be directed to the UK trade inbox (trade@ons.gov.uk).

HMRC methodology change for gas and revisions to past years

HMRC trade Statistics are amending the mechanism for the data source used in the compilation of Natural Gas traded with non-EU partners. We will implement these revisions in a phased approach. More details can be found on our website.

EMU enlargement

As of 1 January 2015, Lithuania joined the European Monetary Union (EMU). Therefore the EMU totals in this UK trade release include Lithuania.

EMU coverage

The coverage of EMU countries was extended to cover Cyprus and Malta from October 2008, Slovakia from January 2009, Estonia from January 2011, Latvia from January 2014 and Lithuania from January 2015. Some EU and non-EU breakdowns of commodity data for chained volume measures which are available on request may be less reliable than the current price data. Please consult Katherine Kent on +44 (0)1633 455829 if you are considering using them.

Data have been combined for the United States and Puerto Rico and for Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah (the United Arab Emirates) from January 2009 onwards. Estimates are separately available for the United States and Dubai up to the end of 2008 on request.

Erratics

Non-monetary gold is now included in the erratics series; along with ships, aircraft, precious stones and silver. In compliance with the BPM6 changes, non-monetary gold which is held as a store of wealth is now recorded within trade in goods.

Deflation

It is common for the value of a group of financial transactions to be measured in several time periods. The values measured will include both the change in the volume sold and the effect of the change of prices over that year. Deflation is the process whereby the effect of price change is removed from a set of values.

Chain-linked indices (chained volume measures), which are indexed to form the volume series in this bulletin, differ from fixed base indices in that the growth from one year to the next is estimated by weighting the components using the contribution to value of trade in the immediately preceding year (effectively re-basing every year). This series of annually re-weighted annual growths is then “chain-linked” to produce a continuous series.

The implied price deflators, derived by comparing current price data to chained volume measures data are not the same as the price indices published in this statistical bulletin, because the former are current weighted while the latter are base (2012) weighted.

Changes in trade associated with VAT MTIC fraud mean that comparisons of volume and prices (both including and excluding trade associated with VAT MTIC fraud) should be treated with a great deal of caution.

Interpreting the data

In months where quarterly and 3-monthly ending percentage changes for index data coincide, there may be small differences between the data for methodological reasons. Quarterly data are the indexed form of an underlying constant price (for volume indices) or consistent quantity (for price indices) series. 3-month ending data are the average of the index data in that period.

Seasonal adjustment

Seasonal adjustment aims to remove effects associated with the time of the year or the arrangement of the calendar so that movements within a time series may be more easily interpreted.

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17. Records sheet

The UK trade record information for February 2016 can be accessed on our website.

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18 .Background notes

  1. What’s new

    There is still an opportunity to comment on the UK trade development plan.

  2. Special events

    An article outlining the ONS policy on special events is available on our website.

  3. Code of Practice for Official Statistics

    National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference.

  4. Quality and methodology information report

    A quality and methodology information report for this statistical bulletin and associated data can be found on our website.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Katherine Kent
trade.in.goods@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455829