UK trade: March 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

Cyswllt:
Email Dean Scott

Dyddiad y datganiad:
12 May 2021

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
11 June 2021

1. Main points

  • Exports and imports of goods with the EU, excluding precious metals, increased by £1.0 billion (8.6%) and £0.8 billion (4.5%) respectively in March 2021; both driven by cars.

  • Imports of goods from non-EU countries, excluding precious metals, increased by £1.5 billion (8.4%) in March 2021; mainly driven by imports of clothing.

  • Exports of goods to non-EU countries, excluding precious metals, increased by £1.3 billion (9.9%) in March 2021; mainly driven by exports of cars.

  • In Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2021, total imports of goods, excluding precious metals, were £14.5 billion (12.3%) lower than Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2020, and is the first quarter since records began in January 1997 that imports of goods from non-EU countries are higher than from EU countries.

  • In Quarter 1 2021, total exports of goods, excluding precious metals, were £7.0 billion (8.7%) lower than Quarter 4 2020.

  • In Quarter 1 2021, the total trade deficit, excluding precious metals, narrowed by £8.4 billion to £1.4 billion.

  • In Quarter 1 2021, trade in services imports were £13.4 billion (27.9%) lower than Quarter 1 2020, while exports were £10.4 billion (14.0%) lower.

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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

Imports of miscellaneous manufactures increased by £0.6 billion in March 2021, driven by a £0.5 billion increase in imports to non-EU countries (Figure 2). This was mainly because of increasing imports of clothing from China. The Retail Sales Index figures for March showed a resurgent demand for clothing, with an 18.3% increase in sales of clothing and footwear. Additionally, clothing was imported in March to prepare for the reopening of non-essential retail on 12 April.

Imports of material manufactures increased by £0.5 billion in March 2021, driven by increasing imports of non-ferrous metals from non-EU countries.

Imports of machinery and transport equipment from EU countries increased by £0.3 billion in March 2021, driven by cars, predominantly from Germany. Rising imports can be attributed to car showrooms preparing to reopen on 12 April and new registration plates becoming available in March. However, imports of cars are still muted as the industry continues to be severely impacted by the global shortage of semiconductor microchips.

Figure 2: Imports of goods from the EU showed weak increases across the commodity groups in March 2021

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

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Exports of machinery and transport equipment to non-EU countries increased by £0.8 billion in March 2021 (Figure 3). This was mainly exports of cars, which increased by £0.3 billion, particularly to the United States. March car output for exports increased by 54.1%, with 82.5% of cars being sent overseas. Shipments to major destinations rose dramatically compared with 2020 when many markets were already shut before the UK itself entered lockdown.

Exports of chemicals increased by £0.5 billion in March 2021, with a £0.3 billion increase in exports to non-EU countries. This was particularly driven by increasing exports of organic chemicals to the United States. Organic chemicals include component parts for vaccine production, which surged in the United States because of increased demand.

Exports of food and live animals increased by £0.1 billion in March 2021. Exports to the EU increased while exports to the rest of world remained flat. Exports are still lower than March 2020, and while stockpiling at the end of 2020 and weak hospitality demand because of the pandemic will have had an impact, UK businesses may also be impacted by the change in EU trade requirements.

Figure 3: Exports of goods to the EU increased in March 2021

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

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4. Total trade and quarterly movements

Data for March 2021 provide the first quarterly figures since the end of the EU-exit transition period. In Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2021, the total trade deficit narrowed by £8.4 billion to £1.4 billion (Figure 4). Imports fell by £17.3 billion to £138.4 billion, while exports fell by £8.9 billion to £137.0 billion.

Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit in volume terms, excluding unspecified goods, widened by £9.1 billion in Quarter 1 2021. Imports decreased by £20.3 billion and exports by £11.2 billion.

The trade in services surplus increased by £0.8 billion in Quarter 1 2021. Imports fell by £2.7 billion, while exports fell by £2.0 billion.

Exports of goods fell by £7.6 billion in Quarter 1 2021 when compared with the same period in 2020. Imports of goods fell by £5.4 billion when compared with the same period in 2020. However, Quarter 1 2020 data were strongly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, so we also provide comparisons with Quarter 1 2018, when trade was not impacted by the coronavirus or the end of the transition period. Exports and imports of goods also fell in Quarter 1 2021 when compared with the same period in 2018 (Table 2).

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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. Our data 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 been revised from January 2021 to February 2021 for both goods and services.

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7. UK trade data

UK trade: goods and services publication tables
Dataset | Released 12 May 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 12 May 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 12 May 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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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 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 March 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 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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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