UK trade: May 2019

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

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Contact:
Email Abi Casey

Release date:
10 July 2019

Next release:
9 August 2019

1. Main points

  • The total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £4.6 billion to £12.6 billion in the three months to May 2019, due mainly to the trade in goods deficit narrowing £4.6 billion to £39.7 billion.

  • Falling imports of machinery and transport equipment, and chemicals were the main drivers in the narrowing of the trade in goods deficit in the three months to May 2019.

  • Growth in imports of unspecified goods, which includes non-monetary gold, slowed in the three months to May 2019; excluding unspecified goods, the total trade deficit narrowed £5.1 billion to £5.7 billion in the three months to May 2019.

  • Increased exports of fuels partially contributed to the narrowing of the trade deficit in the three months to May 2019, however, this was driven by rising oil prices; removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit narrowed by a lesser £2.9 billion to £14.0 billion in the three months to May 2019.

  • The total trade deficit widened £20.6 billion to £46.2 billion in the 12 months to May 2019, due mainly to the trade in goods deficit, which widened £15.7 billion to £153.5 billion; the services surplus narrowed by a lesser £4.9 billion to £107.3 billion.

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2. Things you need to know about this release

Data revision policy

In accordance with National Accounts Revisions Policy, goods data in this release have been revised back to April 2019, while services data have been revised back to January 2019 when compared with our previous trade bulletin from 10 June 2019.

National Statistics designation status

The UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade (PDF 72.8KB) on 14 November 2014. We have now responded to all of the specific requirements of the reassessment of UK trade and are in the final stages of providing evidence to the Authority.

We are undertaking a programme of improvements to UK trade statistics in line with the UK trade development plan, including more detail and improvements now published to address anticipated future demands. On 24 October 2018, we published an article outlining our achievements so far and forward look with regards to the transformation of our trade statistics.

We continue to work with the Office for Statistics Regulation team to regain National Statistics status for UK trade statistics. We welcome feedback on our new trade statistics, developments and future plans. If you have any comments, please send them by email to trade@ons.gov.uk.

UK trade data

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

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

Erratic commodities

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

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

Non-monetary gold

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

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

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

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

Trade asymmetries

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

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

Blue Book 2019

Each year we produce an annual update to the UK National Accounts in the Blue Book and Pink Book and the associated releases. As already announced, the Blue Book and Pink Book 2019 consistent datasets will be published on 30 September 2019.

Details have already been provided on the scope in the article Latest developments and changes to be implemented in Blue Book and Pink Book 2019. Indicative impacts on headline gross domestic product (GDP) components for the years 1997 to 2016 were published on 27 June 2019 in the article Blue Book 2019 indicative impacts on GDP current price and chained volume measure estimates: 1997 to 2016.

This year, due to the very demanding set of changes being put through in the annual update, we are not going to fully reconcile 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 series will remain as 2016.

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3. Total trade deficit narrowed in the three months to May 2019

The total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £4.6 billion to £12.6 billion in the three months to May 2019, as the trade in goods deficit narrowed £4.6 billion to £39.7 billion (Figure 1). The narrowing of the total trade deficit was due largely to imports of goods, which fell £3.9 billion to £128.9 billion, while goods exports increased £0.7 billion to £89.2 billion.

The trade in services surplus remained flat at £27.1 billion in the three months to May 2019. Exports of services increased £0.4 billion to £74.0 billion, while imports also increased £0.4 billion to £46.9 billion.

Decreased imports of goods in the three months to May 2019 were due largely to falls in imports of machinery and transport equipment, and chemicals.

Imports of machinery and transport equipment fell £1.7 billion as imports of road vehicles fell £0.9 billion. Imports of ships and aircraft, and electrical machinery, also fell £0.4 billion. Chemical imports decreased £1.5 billion in the three months to May 2019, driven by falls in imports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products, and organic chemicals, of £0.6 billion and £0.5 billion respectively.

Falls in imports of chemicals, and machinery and transport equipment in the three months to May 2019 were driven by falls in April 2019. This fall followed a sharp rise in imports in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2019 that was consistent with the UK’s originally intended departure from the European Union at the end of March 2019.

Increased goods exports were driven by a £1.9 billion increase in miscellaneous manufactures and a £0.8 billion increase in fuel exports, offset in part by a £1.2 billion fall in exports of machinery and transport equipment; of which £0.6 billion was cars.

Growth in the imports of unspecified goods, which includes non-monetary gold, slowed in the three months to May 2019. Excluding unspecified goods, the total trade deficit narrowed £5.1 billion to £5.7 billion in the three months to May 2019 (Figure 2).

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

The trade in goods deficit narrowed £3.0 billion to £16.4 billion with non-EU countries and £1.6 billion to £23.3 billion with EU countries in the three months to May 2019 (Figure 3).

The goods deficit narrowed with non-EU countries due largely to increased exports. Exports of miscellaneous manufactures, fuels and material manufactures increased £1.5 billion, £0.8 billion and £0.8 billion respectively. The increases were offset in part by machinery and transport equipment falling £0.5 billion, of which car exports contributed £0.4 billion.

The narrowing of the trade in goods deficit with EU countries in the three months to May 2019 was driven by falling imports. Imports of machinery and transport equipment, and chemicals from EU countries fell £1.9 billion and £1.2 billion respectively. Falling imports of machinery and transport equipment were due largely to falls in road vehicles, and ships and aircraft, which fell £0.9 billion and £0.4 billion respectively. Falls in chemical imports were due mainly to organic chemicals, and medicinal and pharmaceutical products, which both decreased by £0.4 billion.

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5. Removing the effect of inflation, the trade deficit narrowed in the three months to May 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) narrowed £2.9 billion to £14.0 billion in the three months to May 2019, as the trade in goods deficit narrowed £3.2 billion to £40.3 billion and the trade in services surplus narrowed £0.3 billion to £26.3 billion.

Goods exports decreased £0.6 billion to £79.4 billion in the three months to May 2019, while goods imports fell by a greater £3.8 billion to £119.7 billion. Services exports were flat at £69.5 billion, while services imports increased by £0.3 billion to £43.2 billion.

The trade balance narrowed by less in volume terms than in current prices, as export prices increased by an average of 1.2% in the three months to May 2019. Average goods export prices increased 1.7% in the three months to May 2019, caused by increased prices of crude oil, which drove a 19.7% increase in the fuels implied deflator.

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

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

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

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Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes:

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

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

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

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

The total UK trade deficit (goods and services) widened £20.6 billion to £46.2 billion in the 12 months to May 2019, due largely to widening of the trade in goods deficit (Figure 5).

The trade in goods deficit widened £15.7 billion to £153.5 billion in the 12 months to May 2019, as imports of goods increased £31.6 billion to £510.6 billion compared with exports, which rose by a lesser £15.9 billion to £357.1 billion. The largest contributor to the increase in exports was fuels, which increased £8.1 billion. Increased imports were driven primarily by unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold), fuels, and machinery and transport equipment, which rose £9.4 billion, £6.4 billion and £6.0 billion respectively.

The trade in services surplus narrowed £4.9 billion to £107.3 billion in the 12 months to May 2019, as imports increased £14.1 billion to £182.6 billion, while exports grew by a lesser £9.2 billion to £290.0 billion. The main contributors to the increase in imports of services were other business services, financial and travel.

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

The £15.7 billion widening in the trade in goods deficit to £153.5 billion in the 12 months to May 2019 was due mainly to trade with non-EU countries (Figure 6). The trade in goods deficit widened £15.9 billion to £59.5 billion with non-EU countries and narrowed £0.2 billion to £94.1 billion with EU countries in the 12 months to May 2019.

The widening of the trade in goods deficit with non-EU countries in the 12 months to May 2019 was due mainly to imports, which increased £25.3 billion, while exports increased by a lesser £9.4 billion.

The largest contributors to the increase in imports from non-EU countries were unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold) and fuels, which increased £9.8 billion and £7.1 billion respectively. Increased exports to non-EU countries were driven by increases in exports of fuels, miscellaneous manufactures, and chemicals, which increased £3.2 billion, £1.6 billion and £1.6 billion respectively.

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10. Quality and methodology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • uses and users of the data

  • how the output was created

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

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

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