UK trade: May 2021

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

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Release date:
9 July 2021

Next release:
12 August 2021

1. Main Points

  • Total exports of goods, excluding precious metals, increased by £1.3 billion (4.9%) in May 2021, driven by a £1.0 billion (8.0%) increase in exports to EU countries.

  • Total imports of goods, excluding precious metals, fell by £0.5 billion (1.4%) in May 2021 because of a £0.7 billion (3.4%) fall in imports from non-EU countries, which offset a slight increase of £0.1 billion (0.8%) to EU countries.

  • Monthly goods imports from non-EU countries, excluding precious metals, continues to be higher than the EU for the fifth consecutive month, but the gap is narrowing.

  • In the three months to May 2021, the total trade deficit, excluding precious metals, narrowed by £2.2 billion to £3.5 billion.

  • In the three months to May 2021, the trade in services surplus fell by £0.2 billion to £28.1 billion.

About the bulletin

We identified an error in the UK trade data prior to the planned release on 9 July 2021. The error occurred as we opened up the 2020 year to take on board corrections to HMRC data for non-EU trade which has caused a processing issue for the EU data. See revisions section for more information.

The release consists of a streamlined bulletin and dataset covering headline figures only. We expect to be able to publish full, corrected data next week. We are reviewing why the processing error occurred so that we can take action to minimise the risk of a similar issue in the future.

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2. Revisions

An error was identified in the HMRC Overseas Trade data used to compile Office for National Statistics (ONS) UK Trade statistics. To ensure ONS Trade figures reflect the most up-to-date position, revisions for the period January 2020 to February 2021 have been made in this publication. This revision will take place outside of the usual National Accounts revisions period but will be reflected in the National Accounts (e.g. GDP and Balance of Payments) published on 30 September 2021.

The previously published and revised data can be seen in Tables 1 and 2. Please note, the HMRC correction does not make up the entirety of ONS trade revisions. Whilst the changes to non-EU trade are mainly because of the HMRC correction, the changes to EU trade are mainly because of updated seasonal adjustment.

More detail on the main affected chapters is provided in HMRC’s published correction notice. The error primarily affects UK exports to non-EU countries and these revisions are relatively modest. The May 2021 HMRC Overseas Trade in Goods Statistics, which includes these corrections, was published at 9:30 on Friday 9 July.

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3. UK trade data

UK trade: goods and services publication tables
Dataset | Released 9 July 2021
Monthly data on the UK’s trade in goods and services, including trade inside and outside the EU.

UK trade in goods by classification of product by activity time series
Dataset | Released 16 June 2021
Quarterly and annual time series of the value of UK imports and exports of goods grouped by product. Goods are attributed to the activity of which they are the principal products.

Other related trade data
Updated 11 June 2021
Other UK trade data related to this publication. These include 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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4. Glossary

Chained volume measures (CVMs)

CVM estimates are 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).

Current price measures (CPs)

These estimates measure the actual price paid for goods or services and are not adjusted for inflation. Unless otherwise stated, all current price data are provided in £ million and are seasonally adjusted.


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

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.

Precious metals and non-monetary gold

Precious metals include precious metals, silver, platinum and palladium, and it forms part of the commodity group “unspecified goods”. Non-monetary gold comprises the majority of this group and is the technical term for gold bullion not owned by central banks.

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”.

A full Glossary of economic terms is available.

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5. Measuring the data

Coronavirus data impacts

Because of the challenges of data collection during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have experienced challenges around the level of survey and data returns for this trade release.

Data sources

Data from the quarterly International Trade in Services (ITIS) Survey make up over 50% of trade in services data. Because of the coronavirus, many businesses have moved to working from home or suspended trade, causing a lower survey response than usual. View the UK trade QMI for more detail.

Data from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) are the main source for travel services, making up around 8% of total trade. The IPS was suspended from 16 April 2020 because of the coronavirus. We have been investigating alternative ways to continue to measure these services in the future. View the UK trade QMI for more detail.

Data from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) make up over 90% of trade in goods value and are the main source. We have worked closely with HMRC to prepare for the change in collection of customs data, which occurred at the end of the EU exit transition period. View further information in Impact of EU exit on the collection and compilation of UK trade statistics.

In line with international standards, our headline trade statistics contain the UK's exports and imports of non-monetary gold. View more information about the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS') recording of non-monetary gold.

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


Trade is measured through both exports and imports of goods and services. Data are supplied by over 30 sources including several administrative sources, with HMRC being the largest for trade in goods. View more detailed information about the methods used to produce UK trade statistics on the UK trade methodology web pages. 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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6. Strengths and limitations

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 by email to

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 are available from the statistical agencies for the relevant countries or through central databases such as UN Comtrade.

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

Hannah Donnarumma
Telephone: +44 (0)1329 447648