UK trade: April 2021

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

This is not the latest release. View latest release

29 June 2021 12:00

Following the publication of the April 2021 release an error was identified in the HMRC Overseas Trade data used to compile ONS UK Trade statistics.

Goods exported on a temporary basis, such as works of art or jewellery for an exhibition, were erroneously included as trade since January 2019. To prevent a repeat of this error, HMRC has implemented additional quality assurance measures.

To ensure ONS Trade figures reflect the most up-to-date position, and to align with the HMRC plans for releasing the corrected data, revisions for the period January 2020 to February 2021 will be made in our next publication on 9 July 2021. 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 error primarily affects UK exports to non-EU countries and early indications suggest these revisions are relatively modest. Prior to seasonal adjustment and further processing stages, the correction to monthly non-EU exports results in a downward revision of less than 3% in most months, with a maximum downward revision of approximately 6%.

We will align our update and publication of corrected 2019 data with the HMRC plans for releasing the corrected data and will announce plans shortly.

Further information on this error and the subsequent revisions has been provided by HMRC.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

View superseded version

Cyswllt:
Email Dean Scott

Dyddiad y datganiad:
11 June 2021

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
9 July 2021

1. Main points

  • Total imports of goods, excluding precious metals, increased by £1.4 billion (3.9%) in April 2021, with increases seen with both non-EU and EU countries.
  • Increasing imports of goods with non-EU countries were driven by non-ferrous metals and crude oil, while increases with EU countries were driven by general miscellaneous manufactures.
  • Monthly goods imports from non-EU countries, excluding precious metals, were the highest since records began in January 1997.
  • Total exports of goods, excluding precious metals, fell slightly by £0.1 billion (0.6%) in April 2021 after two consecutive months of growth, with falls in exports to non-EU countries offsetting increases to EU countries.
  • Falling exports of goods to non-EU countries were driven by cars, while increasing exports to the EU were driven by iron and steel.
  • In the three months to April 2021, the total trade deficit, excluding precious metals, narrowed by £4.4 billion to £3.2 billion.
  • In the three months to April 2021, the trade in services surplus increased by £0.5 billion to £29.4 billion.

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There has been more volatility in trade statistics over the past two years because of issues relating to Brexit and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Because of this, alongside comparisons with 2020, we also compare 2021 with equivalent 2018 data to provide a comparison of trade with our most recent “stable” period.

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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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3. Monthly trade analysis

Total imports of goods increased with EU and non-EU countries in April 2021. Total imports of material manufactures increased by £0.6 billion in April 2021, driven by increasing imports of non-ferrous metals, which include palladium, from non-EU countries like South Africa. Palladium is used in catalytic converters and may be related to car production recovering since the start of the pandemic. Palladium prices hit record highs in April 2021, fuelled by supply concerns.

Imports of machinery and transport equipment increased by £0.4 billion in April 2021, with increases seen across both EU and non-EU countries. Car showrooms were able to reopen in April 2021, boosting new car registrations, which were significantly higher when compared with April 2020, but still lower than the 10-year average.

Imports of fuels increased by £0.3 billion in April 2021, driven entirely by increasing imports of fuels from non-EU countries. Most of the increase was because of increasing imports of crude oil from Norway. This may be a result of the end of the ban on non-essential travel.

Imports of goods from China fell across many commodity types, including office machinery, cars, general miscellaneous manufactures, and electrical machinery. These commodities are typically transported by ship, and therefore may have been affected by the blockage of the Suez Canal, an important passage for ships travelling between Asia and Europe, at the end of March 2021.

Figure 2: Imports of goods from both EU and non-EU countries have increased across most commodity groups

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

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Total exports of goods fell in April 2021, driven by falls in exports to non-EU countries. Total exports of machinery and transport equipment fell by £0.2 billion in April 2021, with a £0.2 billion fall in exports to non-EU countries. UK car production was up from 2020 levels but 3.8% below April 2019 and down 42.9% compared with the five-year average. Production of electric vehicles continues to make up a significant proportion of UK car production.

Total exports of goods to the EU increased in April 2021, driven by a £0.2 billion increase in exports of material manufactures, specifically iron and steel.

Total exports of fuels fell by £0.3 billion in April 2021, driven by a £0.2 billion fall in exports of fuels to the EU. This was mainly because of a fall in exports of crude oil to the Netherlands and Germany.

Figure 3: Exports of goods to non-EU countries fell across most commodities in April 2021

EU and non-EU goods exports by commodity, April 2019 to April 2021

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4. Total trade, three-monthly and annual movements

In the three months to April 2021, the total trade deficit narrowed by £4.4 billion to £3.2 billion (Figure 4). Imports fell by £4.0 billion to £145.3 billion while exports increased by £0.4 billion to £142.1 billion.

Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit in volume terms, excluding unspecified goods, narrowed by £6.1 billion in the three months to April 2021. Imports fell by £7.7 billion and exports by £1.6 billion.

The trade in services surplus increased by £0.5 billion to £29.4 billion in the three months to April 2021. Imports fell by £1.2 billion and exports by £0.7 billion.

Imports and exports of goods rose significantly in April 2021 when compared with April 2020 (Table 2). However, 2020 data were strongly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic so we also provide comparisons with 2018 when trade was not affected by either coronavirus or the end of the Brexit transition period. Imports of goods increased in April 2021 when compared with April 2018, while exports decreased.

Exports and imports of goods increased in the three months to April 2021 when compared with the same period in 2020 but fell when compared with the same period in 2018.

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

Explore the 2020 trade in goods data using our previously published interactive tools where we break down UK trade in goods with 234 countries by 125 commodities.

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6. Revisions

In accordance with the National Accounts Revisions Policy, the data in this release have not been revised and only include new data for April 2021.

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7. UK trade data

UK trade: goods and services publication tables
Dataset | Released 11 June 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 June 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 18 March 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
Released 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.

Customise my data: country by commodity
Dataset | Released 11 June 2021
Customisable version of country by commodity data on the UK’s trade in goods, including trade by all countries and selected commodities, exports and imports, non-seasonally adjusted. Please note this dataset will be updated at 9:30am on 11 June 2021.

UK total trade: all countries
Dataset | Released 7 May 2021
Quarterly estimates of total trade, trade in goods and trade in services by country, non-seasonally adjusted.

UK trade in services: service type by partner country
Dataset | Released 7 May 2021
Trade in services data experimental statistics, including breakdown of exports and imports by country and geographic region, EU and non-EU.

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8. 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

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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9. 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 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 March 2020 because of 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.

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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10. 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@ons.gov.uk.

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. View more on trade asymmetries.

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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Manylion cyswllt ar gyfer y Bwletin ystadegol

Dean Scott
trade@ons.gov.uk
Ffôn: +44 (0)1633 455467