UK trade: January 2020

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:
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Release date:
11 March 2020

Next release:
9 April 2020

1. Main points

  • The underlying total trade deficit (goods and services), excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, narrowed by £3.9 billion to £0.5 billion in the three months to January 2020, largely because of a narrowing of the trade in goods deficit.

  • The trade in goods deficit, excluding precious metals, narrowed by £6.3 billion to £23.8 billion in the three months to January 2020; this was caused by falling imports in machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, and miscellaneous manufactures.

  • The trade in goods deficit, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, narrowed with both EU and non-EU countries in the three months to January 2020 by £4.4 billion and £1.9 billion respectively.

  • Including non-monetary gold and other precious metals, the total trade balance increased by £19.5 billion to a surplus of £14.0 billion in the three months to January 2020, owing to a £13.3 billion rise in precious metals exports.

  • Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit in volume terms, excluding unspecified goods, narrowed by £1.4 billion to £1.2 billion in the three months to January 2020.

  • The total trade deficit narrowed by £20.2 billion to £14.6 billion in the 12 months to January 2020.

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2. The total trade deficit, excluding precious metals, narrowed in the three months to January 2020

The total trade deficit (goods and services), excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, narrowed by £3.9 billion to £0.5 billion in the three months to January 2020 (Figure 1). This was because of imports falling by £7.6 billion to £174.3 billion, which was partly offset by exports falling by £3.7 billion to £173.8 billion.

The narrowing of the total trade deficit, excluding precious metals, was largely because of a £6.3 billion narrowing of the trade in goods deficit to £23.8 billion, as imports fell faster than exports. Goods imports fell by £10.4 billion to £113.5 billion, largely because of machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, and miscellaneous manufactures, which fell by £5.4 billion, £2.1 billion and £1.6 billion respectively. The fall in imports of machinery and transport equipment was largely because of a £2.0 billion fall in road vehicles and a £1.8 billion fall in electrical machinery. The fall in imports of chemicals was largely because of a £1.0 billion fall in medicinal and pharmaceutical products.

The £10.4 billion fall in goods imports was partly offset by a £4.1 billion fall in goods exports to £89.7 billion in the three months to January 2020. Falling exports were largely seen in machinery and transport equipment and miscellaneous manufactures, which fell by £1.7 billion and £0.9 billion respectively.

The trade in services surplus narrowed by £2.4 billion to £23.3 billion in the three months to January 2020, caused by a £2.8 billion rise in services imports to £60.8 billion. Rising imports were partly offset by a £0.4 billion rise in services exports to £84.1 billion.

The narrowing of the trade in services surplus in the three months to January 2020 was impacted by gross domestic product (GDP) balancing adjustments that were applied for the first quarterly GDP estimate for Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019. For more details on the GDP balancing adjustments, see Section 8 and Section 11.

Precious metals, which includes non-monetary gold, saw large increases in exports in the three months to January 2020, with exports rising by £13.3 billion to £14.5 billion. Imports of precious metals fell by a lesser £2.3 billion. Including precious metals, the total trade balance increased by £19.5 billion to a surplus of £14.0 billion in the three months to January 2020. The trade in goods deficit, including precious metals, narrowed by £22.0 billion to £9.3 billion (Figure 2 and Table 1).

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3. The trade in goods deficit, excluding precious metals, narrowed with both EU and non-EU countries in the three months to January 2020

In this release, for the first time, we publish data on non-monetary gold and other precious metals split by EU and non-EU countries. For more details, see Section 11.

The £6.3 billion narrowing of the trade in goods deficit, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, in the three months to January 2020 was largely because of a £4.4 billion narrowing of the deficit with EU countries to £20.1 billion. The trade in goods deficit with non-EU countries, excluding precious metals, narrowed by a lesser £1.9 billion to £3.7 billion (Figure 3).

The narrowing of the deficit with both EU and non-EU countries was caused by imports falling faster than exports. Goods imports from EU countries fell by £7.0 billion, largely because of machinery and transport equipment and chemicals, which fell by £2.7 billion and £1.8 billion respectively.

Goods imports from non-EU countries fell by £3.4 billion, largely because of machinery and transport equipment and miscellaneous manufactures, which fell by £2.6 billion and £0.9 billion respectively.

The fall in goods imports from EU countries was partly offset by a £2.6 billion fall in goods exports. Falling exports to EU countries were seen in machinery and transport equipment, miscellaneous manufactures, food and live animals, and chemicals, which fell by £0.7 billion, £0.6 billion, £0.5 billion and £0.5 billion respectively.

Goods exports from non-EU countries fell by £1.5 billion in the three months to January 2020. Falling exports were largely because of a £1.1 billion fall in machinery and transport equipment.

Precious metals saw large increases in exports to non-EU countries in the three months to January 2020. Exports rose by £12.4 billion to £13.5 billion, while imports fell by £2.2 billion. This caused the trade in goods balance with non-EU countries, including precious metals, to increase by £16.5 billion to a surplus of £9.7 billion.

Exports of precious metals to EU countries increased by £0.9 billion to £1.0 billion, while imports remained at £0.1 billion. Including precious metals, the trade in goods deficit with EU countries narrowed by £5.5 billion to £19.1 billion.

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4. Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit, excluding unspecified goods, narrowed in the three months to January 2020

This section presents volume and price estimates of UK trade exports, imports and balances using chained volume measures (CVMs) and implied deflators (IDEFs). For more details on these, see Section 10.

In volume terms, the total trade deficit (goods and services), excluding unspecified goods (which includes non-monetary gold), narrowed by £1.4 billion to £1.2 billion in the three months to January 2020. The narrowing of the deficit was largely because of a narrowing of the trade in goods deficit, partly offset by a narrowing of the trade in services surplus (Figure 4).

The trade in goods deficit, in volume terms, excluding unspecified goods, narrowed by £4.1 billion to £22.5 billion, as imports fell by £7.6 billion to £102.0 billion while exports fell by a lesser £3.4 billion to £79.5 billion. Falling goods imports were largely seen in machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, and miscellaneous manufactures, which fell by £4.2 billion, £1.3 billion and £1.0 billion respectively. Falling goods exports were largely seen in machinery and transport equipment, miscellaneous manufactures, and food and live animals, which fell by £1.2 billion, £0.8 billion and £0.5 billion respectively.

The trade in services surplus in volume terms narrowed by £2.7 billion to £21.3 billion. The narrowing of the surplus was largely because of a £2.5 billion rise in services imports, while exports fell by £0.2 billion.

Unspecified goods saw rising exports in volume terms in the three months to January 2020, with exports rising by £12.4 billion. Imports of unspecified goods fell by a lesser £2.2 billion. Therefore, the total trade balance in volume terms, including unspecified goods, increased by £16.0 billion to a surplus of £12.2 billion in the three months to January 2020, caused by the trade in goods deficit narrowing by £18.7 billion to £9.2 billion.

Total trade import prices fell by 1.1% in the three months to January 2020. This was mainly because of a 1.6% fall in goods import prices, partly offset by a 0.3% rise in services import prices.

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

Explore the 2019 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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Data download

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).

You can also explore the 2019 trade in goods data by commodity, for example, car exports to the EU and UK tea or coffee imports.

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

Treemap imports (full width)

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Treemap exports (full width)

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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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6. The total trade deficit narrowed in the 12 months to January 2020

The total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed by £20.2 billion to £14.6 billion in the 12 months to January 2020, mainly because of a narrowing of the trade in goods deficit of £27.3 billion to £117.2 billion. Exports of goods increased by £27.2 billion to £377.2 billion, while imports decreased by £0.1 billion to £494.4 billion (Figure 5 and Table 2). Excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, the total trade deficit narrowed by £9.4 billion to £19.8 billion.

Total exports increased by £46.3 billion to £705.1 billion, whereas imports increased by £26.0 billion to £719.7 billion, in the 12 months to January 2020.

Rising exports were largely because of precious metals and miscellaneous manufactures, which increased by £16.6 billion and £8.3 billion respectively. This was partly offset by a fall of £4.8 billion in fuel exports.

The £0.1 billion decrease of goods imports to £494.4 billion was caused by fuels and chemicals, which decreased by £7.3 billion and £2.4 billion respectively. This was largely offset by increases in imports of precious metals and miscellaneous manufactures of £5.8 billion and £2.9 billion respectively.

The trade in services surplus narrowed by £7.1 billion to £102.6 billion in the 12 months to January 2020, as imports increased by £26.2 billion to £225.3 billion and exports increased by a lesser £19.1 billion to £327.9 billion.

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7. The trade in goods deficit narrowed for both EU and non-EU countries in the 12 months to January 2020

The trade in goods deficit with non-EU countries narrowed by £24.9 billion to £24.9 billion in the 12 months to January 2020, while with EU countries it narrowed by £2.5 billion to £92.3 billion (Figure 6).

The narrowing of the trade in goods deficit with non-EU countries was mainly because of a £30.0 billion increase in exports to £207.4 billion, while imports increased by a lesser £5.1 billion to £232.3 billion.

Rising exports to non-EU countries were largely caused by non-monetary gold and other precious metals, miscellaneous manufactures, chemicals, and machinery and transport equipment, which increased by £15.5 billion, £7.3 billion, £3.6 billion and £3.3 billion respectively.

The increase in non-EU imports was largely caused by precious metals, machinery and transport equipment, and miscellaneous manufactures, which rose by £5.9 billion, £1.9 billion and £1.8 billion respectively.

The narrowing of the trade in goods deficit with EU countries in the 12 months to January 2020 was because of a £5.2 billion fall in imports to £262.1 billion, whereas exports fell by £2.8 billion to £169.8 billion.

Falling imports from EU countries were largely because of fuels, material manufactures, chemicals, and machinery and transport equipment, which decreased by £2.8 billion, £1.2 billion, £1.1 billion and £1.0 billion respectively.

The fall in EU exports was caused by chemicals, fuels and material manufactures, which fell by £2.6 billion, £1.9 billion and £1.3 billion respectively.

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8. Revisions

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

The largest upwards monthly revisions were seen in October and November 2019, when the total trade deficits were revised up (narrowing of the deficit) by £1.8 billion and £1.7 billion respectively. The largest downwards revision of the total trade deficit (that is, widening of the deficit) was seen in December 2019, at £1.4 billion (Figure 7).

These 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. The adjustments applied to Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019 caused a fall in the trade in services surplus in the three months to January 2020 (Table 3).

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9. UK trade data

UK trade: goods and services publication tables
Dataset | Released 11 March 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 March 2020
Monthly value of UK exports and imports of goods and services by current price, chained volume measures (CVMs) and implied deflators (IDEFs).

Other related trade data
Released 11 March 2020
Other UK trade data related to this publication. This includes trade in goods for all countries with the UK, monthly export and import country-by-commodity trade in goods data, and revisions triangles for monthly trade data.

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10. Glossary

Trade balance

The trade balance is the difference between exports and imports or exports minus imports. When the value of exports is greater than the value of imports, the trade balance is in surplus. When the value of imports is greater than the value of exports, the trade balance is in deficit. The balance is sometimes referred to as “net exports”.

Inflation

Inflation is the change in the average price level of goods and services over a period of time.

Chained volume measures (CVMs)

A CVM is a “real” measure in that it has had the effect of inflation removed to measure the change in volume between consecutive periods, fixing the prices of goods and services in one period (the base year).

Implied deflators (IDEFs)

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.

Erratics

Erratics are a specific group of commodities that are extremely influential on trade in goods. 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.

Non-monetary gold

Non-monetary gold is the technical term for gold bullion not owned by central banks.

Precious metals

Precious metals includes non-monetary gold, silver, platinum and palladium, and it forms part of the commodity group “unspecified goods”. Non-monetary gold comprises the majority of this group.

A full Glossary of economic terms is available.

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11. Measuring the data

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 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

In accordance with the National Accounts Revisions Policy, data in this release have been revised back to January 2019, compared with trade figures published in our previous UK trade bulletin on 11 February 2020.

UK trade data

Unless otherwise specified, data within this bulletin are in current prices (CPs). This means 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.

Gross domestic product (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 were applied. This month, as GDP and associated balancing adjustments have not yet been revised (the next revision as part of the quarterly national accounts will be on 31 March), we have continued with the balancing adjustments applied last month. These adjustments are in line with the GDP first quarterly estimate published on 11 February 2020. These balancing adjustments have had a large impact on the overall trade figures. Further details on the size of these adjustments can be found in Section 8.

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 because of their volatility. The “erratics” series includes ships, aircraft, precious stones, silver and non-monetary gold.

Precious metals

In line with international standards, the Office for National Statistics’ (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. This includes for the first time precious metals and trade excluding precious metals by EU and non-EU countries.

HMRC data are used in our processing to publish an EU/non-EU allocation of precious metals. Data from HMRC are based on a cross-border movement of goods basis, whereas we publish on a change of economic ownership basis. This may lead to differences in the country-level estimates. These estimates are the best country-level breakdowns at this time, but users are advised to apply caution and take account of the separate methods basis of these outputs.

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

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, we have produced 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.

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 CVMs and implied deflators (IDEFs). Figures are analysed by broad commodity group (CP, CVMs and IDEFs) and according to geographic 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: 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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12. Strengths and limitations

Bulletin changes

In this release, we brought in some changes to the bulletin, aimed to improve its user-friendliness. This includes the addition of new sections on “Strengths and limitations” and “Measuring the data” as well as a “Glossary”. Please email us at trade@ons.gov.uk if you have any feedback about the new design.

National Statistics designation status

The UK Statistics Authority 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.

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 relevant 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.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

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