UK trade: September 2021

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

This is the latest release. View previous releases

26 November 2021 10:30

Following the publication of UK trade: September 2021 an error was identified. This error occurred due to an unintentional duplication of a small number of figures during our monthly processing.

This has resulted in a discrepancy of £1.1 billion in exports to the Netherlands in September 2021 and a smaller discrepancy of £24.6 million in exports to Greece in July 2021. The impact is spread across a range of products.

This does not impact any of the key points and messages in this release.

In line with our published National Accounts revisions policy, we will revise these figures in our January 2022 monthly trade publication.

This cause of this error has been investigated and measures have been taken to minimise the risk of similar errors in future.

We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.

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Contact:
Email Hannah Donnarumma

Release date:
11 November 2021

Next release:
10 December 2021

1. Main Points

  • Total imports of goods, excluding precious metals, increased by £2.3 billion (5.9%) in September 2021, driven by a £2.2 billion (11.2%) increase in imports from non-EU countries, while imports from the EU rose slightly by £0.1 billion (0.6%).

  • Imports of fuels from non-EU countries increased by £1.0 billion (30.4%) in September 2021, reflecting increases in the quantity of fuel imports as well as rising prices and seasonal adjustment effects.

  • Imports from non-EU countries have been higher than from EU countries for the ninth consecutive month since January 2021.

  • Total exports of goods, excluding precious metals, increased by £0.5 billion (1.9%) in September 2021 because of a £0.7 billion (5.7%) increase in exports to the EU, while exports to non-EU countries fell by £0.3 billion (1.9%).

  • The trade in goods deficit, excluding precious metals, widened by £5.7 billion to £39.9 billion in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2021, as imports of goods increased by £2.9 billion (2.5%), while exports decreased by £2.8 billion (3.4%).

  • The trade in services surplus increased by £2.2 billion to £35.6 billion in Quarter 3 2021.

  • The total goods and services trade balance, excluding precious metals, widened by £3.5 billion to a £4.3 billion deficit in Quarter 3 2021.

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Please note that all trade figures are excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, unless otherwise stated.

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2. Interpreting trade statistics

Previously announced timings of the UK leaving the European Union (EU) and the subsequent transition period, along with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, global recession and supply chain disruption, have caused higher levels of volatility in trade statistics in the past two years.

While the monthly narrative provides continued analysis on the short-term impacts, comparing 2021 with equivalent 2018 data provides comparisons of trade with our most recent “stable” period. We also include 2021 compared with 2020, as we would normally. It is important to note monthly data are erratic and therefore small movements should be treated with caution.

Monthly and quarterly trade in goods statistics in this bulletin are excluding precious metals unless otherwise stated. This is because movements in non-monetary gold (NMG), an important component of precious metals, can be large and highly volatile, distorting underlying trends in goods exports and imports.

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4. Monthly trade analysis

Total imports of goods increased by £2.3 billion (5.9%) in September 2021, driven by increasing imports from non-EU countries. Imports of fuels, machinery and transport equipment, material manufactures, chemicals, and food and live animals from non-EU countries all increased in September 2021 (Figure 2).

The large increase in fuel imports was driven by a rise in imports of crude oil and gas from Norway, and crude oil from the USA, following on from a fall in August 2021. The increase in imports of machinery and transport equipment from non-EU countries was driven by increases in telecoms and sound equipment, and electrical machinery from China.

Imports of goods from EU countries rose slightly in September 2021, with increases in imports of fuels, material manufactures and chemicals largely offset by a decrease in machinery and transport equipment. The increase in imports of fuels was seen across several EU countries, while higher chemical imports were because of an increase in organic chemical imports from Ireland. The decrease in imports of machinery and transport equipment was driven by a fall in ship imports from Romania after a spike in August 2021.

Notable increases in imports of fuels from both EU and non-EU countries can be attributed to increases in the quantity of fuel imports, rising prices and seasonal adjustment effects. The rise in fuel prices reflects increased global demand driven by the economic recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and global recession, alongside international supply issues. Increased volume of imports reflects higher domestic demand compared with a year earlier, combined with domestic supply disruptions and a lower production of renewable energy than in 2020.

Figure 2: Imports of goods from non-EU countries increased in September 2021, driven by increasing imports of fuels

EU and non-EU goods exports by commodity September 2019 to September 2021

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Total exports of goods increased by £0.5 billion (1.9%) in September 2021, because of an increase in exports to the EU, while exports to non-EU countries fell. The increase in exports to the EU was driven by increases in machinery and transport equipment, mainly electric machinery to the Netherlands, and fuel exports.

The decrease in exports to non-EU countries was driven by falling exports of material manufactures, mostly non-ferrous metals including silver, to Hong Kong and China. This decrease offset an increase in exports of machinery and transport equipment to non-EU countries, with increasing car exports to China.

Figure 3: Exports of goods increased in September 2021, driven by increasing exports to the EU

EU and non-EU goods imports by commodity September 2019 to September 2021

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5. Total trade, three-monthly and annual movements

Total imports of goods increased by £2.9 billion (2.5%) in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2021 when compared with Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2021, with increases in imports from both EU and non-EU countries. Total exports of goods decreased by £2.8 billion (3.4%) over the same period, driven by falling exports to non-EU countries.

Imports of fuels from non-EU countries increased by £2.9 billion (34.5%) in Quarter 3 2021, which offset falls in non-EU imports of material manufactures, machinery and transport equipment, crude materials and miscellaneous manufactures (Figure 4). Imports of fuels from EU countries increased by £0.9 billion (50.8%) over the same period, and increases were also seen in chemicals, crude materials and material manufactures.

Exports of machinery and transport equipment, fuels and material manufactures to non-EU countries fell in Quarter 3 2021, and exports of all commodities to the EU decreased, except for fuels. Exports of chemicals to the EU showed a large decrease in Quarter 3 2021, following a rise in Quarter 2 2021, which was likely linked to the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination effort across Europe.

Figure 4: Imports of fuels from non-EU countries increased in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2021 when compared with Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2021

Changes in imports and exports by goods commodity group, excluding unspecified goods, Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2021 compared with Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2021

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In Quarter 3 2021, the trade in services surplus increased by £2.2 billion to £35.6 billion. Service imports decreased by £0.2 billion, while service exports increased by £2.1 billion. The rise in service exports was driven by financial services, as well as other business services, where GDP balancing adjustments have been applied.

The total trade balance, excluding precious metals, widened by £3.5 billion to a deficit of £4.3 billion in Quarter 3 2021 (Figure 5). This was driven by a £5.7 billion decrease in the trade in goods balance. Imports increased by £2.8 billion to £155.6 billion and exports decreased by £0.7 billion to £151.3 billion.

Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit, excluding unspecified goods, widened by £3.1 billion to £6.8 billion in Quarter 3 2021. Imports increased by £2.0 billion to £151.5 billion and exports decreased by £1.1 billion to £144.7 billion.

Imports of goods rose by 8.4% in September 2021 when compared with September 2020, and exports increase by 9.4% over the same period (Table 2). However, 2020 data was strongly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, so we also provide comparisons to 2018 when trade was not affected by COVID-19 or the end of the transition period.

Imports and exports of goods increased in Quarter 3 2021 when compared with the same period in 2020 but were lower than Quarter 3 2018, before the UK entered its current economic downturn.

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6. Explore UK trade in goods country-by-commodity data for 2020

Explore the 2020 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 country. Select a country by hovering over it or using the drop-down menu.

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Notes:

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

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

  3. This interactive map denotes country boundaries in accordance with international statistical classifications set out within Appendix 4 of the Balance of Payments (BoP) Vademecum (PDF, 1.1MB) and does not represent the UK policy on disputed territories.

Data download

You can also explore the 2020 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.

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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. This interactive map denotes country boundaries in accordance with international statistical classifications set out within Appendix 4 of the Balance of Payments (BoP) Vademecum (PDF, 1.1MB) and does not represent the UK policy on disputed territories.

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7. Revisions

In accordance with the National Accounts Revisions Policy, the data in this release have been revised from July 2021 to August 2021 for both goods and services.

HMRC unscheduled correction

Following the publication of UK trade: April 2021, an error was identified in the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Overseas Trade data used to compile the Office for National Statistics (ONS) UK Trade statistics. More information on this data error can be found in HMRC's correction note.

Revisions for the period January 2020 to February 2021 were published in our UK trade: May 2021 bulletin on 9 July 2021. This revision took place outside of the usual National Accounts revisions period in order to ensure ONS Trade figures reflected the most up-to-date position. Revisions for pre-2020 will be incorporated in the annual Blue Book publication in October 2022.

HMRC have incorporated these corrections in the September 2021 Overseas Trade in Goods Statistics (OTS) publication released at 9:30am on 11 November 2021.

An article published at 9:30am on 11 November 2021 explains these pre-2020 revisions and provides high-level indicative estimates, broken down by country and commodity.

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8. UK trade data

UK trade: goods and services publication tables
Dataset | Released 11 November 2021
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 November 2021
Monthly value of UK exports and imports of goods and services by current price, chained volume measures (CVMs) and implied deflators (IDEFs).

UK trade in goods by classification of product by activity time series
Dataset | Released 15 September 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
Web page | Released 11 November 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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9. Glossary

Chained volume measures (CVMs)

CVM estimates are a "real" measure in that they have 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

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

Implied deflators (IDEFs)

An implied deflator (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 silver, platinum, and palladium, and the term 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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10. Measuring the data

Consultation on the Code of Practice for Statistics – proposed change to 9.30am release practice

On behalf of the UK Statistics Authority, the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is conducting a consultation on the Code of Practice for Statistics, proposing changes to the 9.30am release practice. Please email your comments by 21 December 2021 to: regulation@statistics.gov.uk.

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 pandemic, 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. Following suspension of the survey in 2020, the IPS has now partially resumed. We continue to use the statistical model to produce our regular travel estimates and, for our Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2021 dataset onwards, will use the IPS deliveries to inform these modelled estimates. We will review this decision after deliveries of IPS data fully resume. 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 our Impact of EU exit on the collection and compilation of UK trade statistics article.

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 ONS's 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.

Method

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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11. Strengths and limitations

National Statistics designation status

The UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade (PDF, 72.8 KB) 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@ons.gov.uk.

Trade asymmetries

Asymmetries can be caused by a range of conceptual and measurement variations between the estimation practices of different countries. Statistical agencies are likely to have different source data, estimation methods, and methodological, geographical and definitional differences. More information on trade in goods asymmetries is published by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), while analysis on trade in services asymmetries is published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

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
trade@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 1329 447648