UK trade: December 2023

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

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15 February 2024 14:46

We have corrected an error in Section 3. Monthly trade in goods by commodity, where the fall in EU Exports was stated as 4.4%. The correct figure is 4.5%, as described in Section 2. Monthly trade in goods.

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Cyswllt:
Email Hannah Donnarumma

Dyddiad y datganiad:
15 February 2024

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
13 March 2024

1. Main points

  • The value of goods imports decreased by £2.6 billion (5.4%) in December 2023, with falls in imports from both EU and non-EU countries, primarily driven by decreased imports of fuels.

  • The value of goods exports decreased by £0.7 billion (2.2%) in December 2023, because of lower exports to the EU.

  • The total trade in goods and services deficit widened by £6.2 billion to £14.9 billion in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2023, because of a large fall in exports of services.

  • The trade in goods deficit widened by £1.4 billion to £49.9 billion in Quarter 4 2023, while the trade in services surplus is estimated to have narrowed by £4.8 billion to £34.9 billion.

  • Total imports of goods and services fell slightly in 2023, while annual total exports rose by £36.8 billion (4.6%), which saw the total annual trade balance narrow by £36.7 billion to a deficit of £53.0 billion.

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Please note that all trade figures exclude non-monetary gold and other precious metals unless otherwise stated. This is because movements in non-monetary gold, an important component of precious metals, can be large and highly volatile, distorting underlying trends in goods exports and imports. Trade statistics in this bulletin are in value terms (current prices) not inflation-adjusted terms (chained volume measures) unless otherwise stated.

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2. Monthly trade in goods

Total imports of goods in "current prices", which are not adjusted for inflation (explained in Section 10: Glossary), decreased by £2.6 billion (5.4%) in December 2023. Imports from non-EU countries fell by £1.5 billion (7.4%), and imports from the EU fell by £1.0 billion (3.9%) (Table 1 and Figure 1).

Total exports of goods decreased by £0.7 billion (2.2%) in December 2023, because of a £0.7 billion (4.5%) fall in exports to the EU while exports to non-EU countries remained stable.

Imports from the EU were £6.4 billion higher than from non-EU countries in December 2023, while exports to the EU were £0.7 billion lower than exports to non-EU countries.

Figure 1: Imports from both EU and non-EU countries decreased in December 2023

EU and non-EU goods imports and exports, excluding precious metals, current prices, seasonally adjusted, January 2020 to December 2023

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Notes:
  1. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) data collection changes following EU exit have affected statistics on UK trade in goods with the EU, resulting in a structural break from January 2021. Our Impact of trade in goods data collection changes on UK trade statistics articles provide more detail.
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After removing the effect of inflation by calculating "chained volume measures" (explained in Section 10: Glossary), total goods imports decreased by £1.4 billion (3.6%) in December 2023 (Figure 2). Imports from non-EU countries fell by £0.7 billion (4.5%) and imports from the EU also fell by £0.7 billion (3.0%).

Total goods exports fell by £0.1 billion (0.5%) in December 2023, after the effect of inflation is removed. This was because exports to the EU decreased by £0.4 billion (3.2%) while exports to non-EU countries increased by £0.3 billion (2.1%).

Figure 2: Imports from EU and non-EU countries fell in December 2023 in both value and inflation-adjusted terms

Imports and exports of goods, excluding precious metals, current prices and chained volume measures, seasonally adjusted, EU and non-EU, January 2020 to December 2023

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Notes:
  1. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) data collection changes following EU exit have affected statistics on UK trade in goods with the EU, resulting in a structural break from January 2021. Our Impact of trade in goods data collection changes on UK trade statistics articles provide more detail.
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3. Monthly trade in goods by commodity

Goods imports

Imports from the EU decreased by £1.0 billion (3.9%) in December 2023. This was mainly because of a £0.6 billion fall in imports of fuels, while smaller falls were seen across all other commodities (Figure 3). The fall in imports of fuels was because of decreased imports of refined oil from the Netherlands.

Imports from non-EU countries decreased by £1.5 billion (7.4%) in December 2023. This was mainly because of a £0.7 billion fall in fuel imports and a £0.4 billion fall in imports of machinery and transport equipment. The fall in imports of fuels was because of decreased imports of crude oil from Norway, while the fall in imports of machinery and transport equipment was because of lower imports of electrical machinery from China.

While there has been recent disruption to shipping in the Red Sea, with ships re-routing around the Cape of Good Hope, as explained in the BBC News article, What do Red Sea assaults mean for global trade?, there is no evidence that this has affected imports in December 2023. Our Weekly shipping indicators dataset shows that there was a decrease in the number of cargo and tanker ship visits in December 2023 compared with November. However, this reflects a general slowdown in shipping over the festive period as observed in previous years. We will continue to monitor the impact of the disruption in the Red Sea in future releases.

Figure 3: Imports of fuels from both EU and non-EU countries decreased in December 2023

EU and non-EU goods imports by commodity, current prices, seasonally adjusted, December 2021 to December 2023

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Volatile fuel prices have influenced trends in the value of fuel imports since autumn 2021. The total value of fuel imported from non-EU countries fell by £0.7 billion (12.8%) in December 2023 (Figure 4). In inflation-adjusted terms, imports of fuels from non-EU countries fell by a lesser £0.1 billion (2.6%).

Goods exports

Exports to the EU decreased by £0.7 billion (4.5%) in December 2023, because of a £0.3 billion fall in fuel exports and £0.1 billion falls in exports of both chemicals, and machinery and transport equipment (Figure 5). The fall in fuel exports was primarily driven by a decrease in exports of crude oil to Poland.

Exports to non-EU countries remained stable in December 2023. Exports of material manufactures decreased by £0.5 billion, which was offset by an increase of £0.4 billion in fuels exports and a £0.1 billion increase in exports of machinery and transport equipment. The fall in exports of material manufactures was driven by reduced exports of non-ferrous metals to the United States, while the increase in fuel exports was because of increased exports of crude oil to South Korea.

Figure 5: Exports of goods to non-EU countries remained stable in December 2023, with a fall in exports of material manufactures offsetting a rise in fuel exports

EU and non-EU goods exports by commodity, current prices, seasonally adjusted, December 2021 to December 2023

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4. Monthly trade in services

Early estimates suggest imports of services increased by around £0.1 billion (0.3%) in value terms in December 2023, and exports also rose by £0.1 billion (0.2%) (Figure 6). Although price rises have affected trade in services in recent months, in December 2023 there was little difference between trade in services trends in value and inflation-adjusted terms.

This release includes data for Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2023 for the first time, which are used to estimate monthly trade values for October, November and December, replacing our previous estimates for those months. View our UK Trade Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) for more detail on how our trade in services statistics are compiled.

The S&P Global Purchasing Managers' Index for December reported an increase in UK service sector growth, though it remained weaker than earlier in the year, when there was a resurgence in consumer-facing services such as travel, leisure and tourism. The growth in December was driven by tech spending and increased financial services activity.

Figure 6: Imports and exports of services are estimated to have increased slightly in both value and inflation-adjusted terms in December 2023

Imports and exports of services, current prices and chained volume measures, seasonally adjusted, January 2020 to December 2023

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In value terms, trade in services is at a higher level than before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Imports of services have increased by £7.8 billion (41.9%) compared with February 2020, while exports of services have risen by £8.4 billion (28.6%). After the effect of inflation has been removed, imports of services are £3.5 billion (18.8%) above February 2020 levels, and exports of services are £1.4 billion (4.7%) above February 2020.

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5. Quarterly trade in goods and services

Total imports of goods increased by £1.0 billion (0.7%) in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2023, compared with Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2023 (Table 2). Goods imports from the EU rose by £1.5 billion (1.9%), while imports from non-EU countries fell by £0.5 billion (0.8%). Exports of goods decreased by £0.4 billion (0.4%) in Quarter 4 2023, driven by a £0.5 billion (1.1%) decrease in exports to the EU. Meanwhile, exports to non-EU countries increased by £0.1 billion (0.3%).​

Early estimates for imports of services fell by £0.4 billion (0.5%) in Quarter 4 2023 compared with Quarter 3 2023, while exports of services fell by an estimated £5.2 billion (4.4%).

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6. Quarterly trade in goods by commodity

Imports of goods from the EU increased by £1.5 billion (1.9%) in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2023 compared with Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2023, because of a £1.5 billion increase in imports of machinery and transport equipment, and a £0.5 billion rise in fuel imports. These increases were partially offset by a £0.3 billion decrease in chemical imports and a £0.2 billion fall in imports of material manufactures (Figure 7). The rise in imports of machinery and transport equipment was because of increased imports of cars and aircraft from Germany.

Imports from non-EU countries decreased by £0.5 billion (0.8%) in Quarter 4 2023, because of a £0.9 billion fall in imports of miscellaneous manufactures and a £0.6 billion fall in material manufactures. The fall in imports of miscellaneous manufactures was because of decreased clothing imports from China and Bangladesh. These decreases were partially offset by a £0.7 billion increase in fuel imports, primarily higher gas imports from Norway.

Exports to the EU decreased by £0.5 billion (1.1%) in Quarter 4, because of a £0.5 billion fall in chemical exports and a £0.4 billion fall in fuel exports which were partially offset by a ​£0.5 billion rise in exports of machinery and transport equipment. The fall in chemical exports was because of lower exports of organic chemicals to Ireland, and the decrease in fuel exports was because of a fall in exports of crude oil to the Netherlands. Increased exports of mechanical machinery and aircraft to Germany contributed to the rise in exports of machinery and transport equipment.

Exports to non-EU countries increased by £0.1 billion (0.3%) in Quarter 4, because of £0.8 billion rises in exports of both material manufactures and fuels. The rise in fuel exports was because of higher exports of crude oil to China. These increases were partially offset by a £0.5 billion fall in exports of miscellaneous manufactures and a £0.4 billion fall in machinery and transport equipment exports.

Figure 7: Imports of machinery and transport equipment from the EU increased in Quarter 4 2023

Changes in imports and exports by goods commodity group, excluding unspecified goods, current prices, seasonally adjusted, Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2023 compared with Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2023

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7. Quarterly trade in services by account type

Early estimates indicate that imports of services decreased by £0.4 billion (0.5%) in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2023 compared with Quarter 3 (July to Sept). Imports of most service types fell in Quarter 4 2023, with a £0.8 billion decrease in other business services, a £0.5 billion decrease in telecoms, computer and information services, and £0.3 billion falls in both construction services and intellectual property services (Figure 8). These decreases were partially offset by a £1.0 billion rise in imports of insurance and pension services and a £0.9 billion rise in travel services.

Exports of services decreased by £5.2 billion (4.4%) in Quarter 4 2023, primarily because of a £4.3 billion fall in exports of other business services. The Bank of England Agents' summary of business conditions for Quarter 4 2023 reported reduced revenue growth in accountancy, law and consultancy, as well as in logistics, advertising, marketing and recruitment. The reduced growth in these two categories may be contributing to a fall in other business services. Exports of travel services fell by £0.8 billion, while telecoms, computer and information services and intellectual property services decreased by £0.6 billion and £0.4 billion, respectively.

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8. Quarterly total trade balances

The total goods and services trade balance, excluding precious metals, widened by £6.2 billion to a deficit of £14.9 billion in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2023 (Figure 9). Exports fell by £5.6 billion over this period, while imports rose by £0.6 billion. When removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit, excluding precious metals, widened by £5.6 billion to £15.7 billion.

The trade in goods deficit in value terms, excluding precious metals, widened by £1.4 billion to £49.9 billion in Quarter 4 2023. The trade in services surplus is estimated to have narrowed by £4.8 billion to £34.9 billion.

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9. Annual trade in goods and services

Total annual imports in goods and services fell slightly by £0.1 billion (0.0%) to £895.6 billion, while total annual exports increased by £36.8 billion (4.6%) to £842.6 billion in 2023 (Table 3). The total annual trade in goods and services balance, excluding precious metals, narrowed by £36.7 billion to a deficit of £53.0 billion in 2023. When removing the effect of inflation, total annual imports decreased by £6.5 billion (0.9%) to £741.5 billion and total annual exports increased by £3.9 billion (0.6%) to £690.8 billion in 2023.

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10. Explore UK trade in goods country-by-commodity data for 2023

Explore the 2023 trade in goods data using our interactive tools. Our data break 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 (desktop only) or use the drop-down menu.

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Notes:
  1. For more information about our methods and how we compile these statistics, see our Trade in goods, country-by-commodity experimental data: 2011 to 2016 article. 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 statistical classifications set out in Appendix 4 of the Balance of Payments (BoP) Vademecum (PDF, 2.9MB) and do not represent the UK policy on disputed territories.

You can also explore the 2022 trade in goods data by commodity, such as car exports to the EU, and UK tea or coffee imports.

Select a commodity from the drop-down menu or select the levels with your digit or cursor to explore the data.

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Notes:
  1. For more information about our methods and how we compile these statistics, see our Trade in goods, country-by-commodity experimental data: 2011 to 2016 article. 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. These interactive charts denote country boundaries in accordance with statistical classifications set out within Appendix 4 of the Balance of Payments (BoP) Vademecum (PDF, 2.9MB) and does not represent the UK policy on disputed territories.

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11. Revisions

In accordance with the National Accounts Revisions Policy, the data in this release have been revised from January 2023 to November 2023 for both goods and services.

There are some additional revisions to total trade and trade in services series, to address a processing issue. The earliest date for these revisions is January 1997. These published data now align with the GDP quarterly national accounts time series.

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12. UK trade data

UK trade: goods and services publication tables
Dataset | Released 15 February 2024
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 15 February 2024
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 MQ10 | Released 15 February 2024
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.

Customise my dataset: country by commodity
Dataset | Released 15 February 2024
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.

Other related trade data
Dataset web page | Released 15 February 2024
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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13. Glossary

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Chained volume measures

Chained volume measures (CVMs) 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 (known as the base year, which is 2019 for trade).

Current price measures

Current price estimates (CPs) 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

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 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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14. Measuring the data

The UK leaving the EU and the subsequent transition period, along with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, supply chain disruption and global recession, have caused higher levels of volatility in trade statistics in recent years. The monthly analysis shows short-term trade movements, but it is important to note that monthly data can be erratic, and therefore movements should be treated with caution.

Data collection changes

Since the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, the arrangements for how the UK trades with the EU changed. HMRC implemented some data collection changes following Brexit, which affected statistics on UK trade in goods with the EU. We have made adjustments to our estimates of goods imports from the EU in 2021 and 2022 to account for these changes, however a structural break remains in the full time series for goods imports from and exports to the EU from January 2021. We therefore advise caution when interpreting and drawing conclusions from these statistics. Our article, Impact of trade in goods data collection changes on UK trade statistics: summary of adjustments and the structural break from 2021 provides more detail.

Data sources

Data from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) make up over 90% of trade in goods value and are the main source for this release. Data from the quarterly International Trade in Services (ITIS) Survey make up over 50% of trade in services data. View our UK Trade Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) for more detail. 

Data from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) are the main source for travel services, historically making up around 8% of total imports. Following suspension of the survey in 2020, the survey has now largely resumed, with a very small number of ports yet to have resumed interviewing. We advise continued caution when using these data until the IPS is fully operational. View our UK Trade QMI for more detail.

Unless otherwise specified, data within this bulletin are in current prices and have not been adjusted to remove the effects of inflation. In line with international standards, our headline trade statistics contain the UK's exports and imports of non-monetary gold. View our National Accounts article: A brief explanation of non-monetary gold in national accounts for more information.

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.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) UK trade figures are produced on a country of dispatch basis, which records imports as coming from the country dispatching the shipments. However, trade figures can also be produced on a country of origin basis, as is used by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ). Users should be aware of the different accounting methods used and the resulting differences across trade figures.

Monthly trade in services data are taken from quarterly trade in services data and split across the months within that quarter through estimation. In months where we have a full quarter's data, we revise previous estimates of monthly values within that quarter.

View more detailed information about the methods used to produce UK trade statistics in our UK Trade methodology.

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15. Strengths and limitations

National Statistics designation status

The UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade (PDF, 72.9KB) on 14 November 2014. We have now responded to all of the specific requirements of the Office for Statistics Regulation's (OSR) reassessment of UK trade. As part of our engagement with the OSR team, we are sharing our continuous improvement and development plans to support UK trade statistics regaining Accredited official 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. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) publishes more information on UK trade asymmetries. Analysis on trade in services asymmetries is published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in our Asymmetries in trade data articles.

More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in our UK Trade Quality and Methodology Information (QMI).

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17. Cite this statistical bulletin

Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 15 February 2024, ONS website, statistical bulletin, UK trade: December 2023

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Manylion cyswllt ar gyfer y Bwletin ystadegol

Hannah Donnarumma
trade@ons.gov.uk
Ffôn: +44 1329 447648