UK trade: October 2020

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

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Cyswllt:
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Dyddiad y datganiad:
10 December 2020

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
15 January 2021

1. Main points

  • The UK total trade surplus, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, decreased by £6.5 billion to £0.8 billion in the three months to October 2020, as imports grew by £14.3 billion and exports grew by a lesser £7.8 billion.

  • The decrease in the total trade surplus was driven by an increase in the trade in goods deficit; the underlying trade in goods deficit widened by £6.6 billion to £29.1 billion in the three months to October 2020.

  • The total trade deficit for the month of October 2020, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, increased by £0.9 billion to £1.6 billion; imports increased by £0.4 billion and exports decreased by £0.5 billion.

  • Removing the effect of inflation, the underlying total trade surplus narrowed by £5.9 billion to £2.6 billion in the three months to October 2020, as imports increased by £15.2 billion and exports increased by £9.3 billion.

  • In the 12 months to October 2020, the total trade balance, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, increased by £41.3 billion to a surplus of £8.2 billion.

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3. The total trade surplus, excluding precious metals, narrowed in the three months to October 2020

The total trade surplus, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, decreased by £6.5 billion to £0.8 billion in the three months to October 2020 (Figure 1). The decrease in the total trade balance was because imports increased by £14.3 billion, while exports increased by a lesser £7.8 billion.

The underlying trade in goods deficit widened by £6.6 billion to £29.1 billion in the three months to October 2020. Goods imports increased by £14.6 billion, while goods exports increased by a lesser £8.0 billion (Figure 2). The increase in goods imports was driven mostly by increases in the import of miscellaneous manufactures, machinery and transport equipment, and material manufactures. The increase in goods exports was driven mostly by increases in machinery and transport equipment (Figure 3).

Imports of miscellaneous manufactures increased by £4.9 billion in the three months to October, largely driven by clothing which increased by £4.0 billion. The increase in clothing imports was from non-EU countries, increasing £3.4 billion, of which China contributed an increase of £1.8 billion. This is aligned with the UK retail data which showed textile, clothing and footwear sales increased by 43.1% in October compared to the previous three months. Increased online sales of clothing may have also been a factor, October online sales of clothes increased by 2.3%. Imports of clothing were higher than pre-pandemic levels in the three months to October. These recent increases in imports may be due to retailers purchasing stock they were unable to during global COVID-related restrictions.

Imports of material manufactures increased by £2.6 billion in the three months to October, largely from non-EU countries which increased by £2.2 billion. Much of this increase was because of textile fabrics from China which increased £0.7 billion in the three months to October. Comparing 2020 year-to-date to the same period in 2019, imports of textile fabrics from China increased by £2.9 billion, this may be due to increasing imports of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and surgical gowns.

The trade in services surplus remained flat at £29.9 billion in the three months to October 2020. Services exports and services imports both decreased by £0.2 billion. The main drivers of the changes in exports and imports were travel, other business services and intellectual property.

Exports of precious metals decreased by £4.6 billion in the three months to October 2020, while imports increased by £0.1 billion. Including precious metals, the total trade surplus decreased by £11.1 billion to £1.7 billion in the three months to October 2020.

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4. The trade in goods deficit, excluding precious metals, widened in EU and non-EU countries in the three months to October 2020

The trade in goods deficit with EU countries, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, grew by £4.9 billion to £22.1 billion in the three months to October 2020. With non-EU countries, the trade in goods deficit grew by £1.6 billion to £7.1 billion (Figure 4).

The widening of the underlying trade in goods deficit with non-EU countries was because of an increase of £7.2 billion in goods imports, while goods exports increased by a lesser £5.5 billion. Rising imports from non-EU countries were largely seen in miscellaneous manufactures and a lesser increase in imports of material manufactures. Increases in exports to non-EU countries were largely seen in machinery and transport equipment.

The widening of the trade in goods deficit with EU countries, excluding precious metals, was because of a £7.4 billion rise in goods imports, while goods exports grew by a lesser £2.5 billion. Increasing goods imports from EU countries were largely seen in machinery and transport equipment and miscellaneous manufactures. Rising exports to EU countries were seen in machinery and transport equipment, though to a lesser extent than goods imports.

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5. Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade surplus, excluding unspecified goods, narrowed in the three months to October 2020

This section presents volume and price estimates of UK trade exports, imports and balances, using chained volume measures (CVMs) and implied deflators (IDEFs). For more details on these terms, see Section 10 of this release.

In volume terms, the total trade surplus (goods and services), excluding unspecified goods (which includes non-monetary gold), decreased by £5.9 billion in the three months to October 2020, as imports increased by £15.2 billion and exports increased by £9.3 billion (Table 2, Figure 5).

Total trade export prices decreased 1.0% in the three months to October 2020, while import prices decreased 0.7%.

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6. Explore UK trade in goods country-by-commodity data for 2019 with our interactive tools

Explore the 2019 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. Interactive maps denote country boundaries in accordance with statistical classifications set out within Appendix 4 of the Balance of Payments (BoP) Vademecum (PDF, 1.1MB).

You can also explore the 2019 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. Interactive maps denote country boundaries in accordance with statistical classifications set out within Appendix 4 of the Balance of Payments (BoP) Vademecum (PDF, 1.1MB).

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7. The total trade balance, excluding precious metals, increased to a surplus in the 12 months to October 2020

The total trade balance (goods and services), increased by £41.3 billion to a £8.2 billion surplus in the 12 months to October 2020, as imports fell by more than exports (Table 3).

The increase of the underlying total trade balance in the 12 months to October 2020 was largely because of a £35.6 billion narrowing of the trade in goods deficit (Table 3). Imports of goods decreased by £86.8 billion, while exports decreased by a lesser £51.2 billion, largely because of falls in fuels, and machinery and transport equipment.

The narrowing of the underlying trade in goods deficit in the 12 months to October 2020 was mainly because of a £22.9 billion narrowing of the deficit with EU countries to £77.1 billion, while the deficit with non-EU countries narrowed by £12.7 billion to £26.4 billion.

The trade in services surplus increased by £5.7 billion to £111.8 billion in the 12 months to October 2020, as imports fell by £39.1 billion and exports fell by a lesser £33.4 billion.

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8. Revisions

The revision policy for this release has changed to align with the rest of ONS’s National Accounts. In accordance with the National Accounts Revisions Policy, the data in this release have been revised with updated data for October 2020, with previous data remaining consistent with estimates published in our November bulletin. These revisions will continue to be shown within the final quarterly estimate of GDP and Quarterly national accounts publications on 22 December.

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9. UK trade data

UK trade: goods and services publication tables
Dataset | Released 10 December 2020
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 10 December 2020
Monthly value of UK exports and imports of goods and services by current price, chained volume measures (CVMs) and implied deflators (IDEFs).

Other related trade data
Released 10 December 2020
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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10. Glossary

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”.

Inflation

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

Chained volume measures (CVMs)

A CVM is 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).

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 non-monetary gold, 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.

A full Glossary of economic terms is available.

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11. Measuring the data

Coronavirus data impacts

In light of the challenges with data collection from social distancing measures put in place because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), we have experienced challenges around the level of survey and data returns for this trade release.

International Trade in Services (ITIS) Survey

Data from the ITIS survey make up over 50% of trade in services data. This release incorporates data collected from the quarterly ITIS survey, which is sent to around 2,200 businesses. As a result of the coronavirus, many businesses have moved to a working from home arrangement or suspended trade, causing a lower response to the survey than usual.

In order to maintain the quality of the survey, we have developed improved imputation methods where we do not have actual data. We have utilised information from other surveys alongside expert guidance to implement these methods and quality assure the data. We continue to review and refine these methods, along with the associated survey methods, to ensure the data are as robust as possible. Alongside this, ITIS data collection has now been moved to online methods, enabling businesses to respond to the survey using spreadsheets, rather than paper, which can then be emailed back to us.

International Passenger Survey

Data from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) are the main source for travel services, making up around 8% of total trade. The IPS was resumed on 7 December 2020 after being suspended since March 2020 because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We have put in place extensive measures to ensure that interviewing can be conducted safely.

Since March, we have worked with the ONS Data Science Campus to create new estimates using alternative data sources. The data sources that have been used include the Civil Aviation Authority, Eurotunnel, the Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH), airline stock figures and aggregated and anonymised foreign-issued card spend processed through Barclays Point-of-Sale (POS) and “card-not present” channels.

We will continue to this model until the IPS returns to full capacity.

UK trade data

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

UK trade data within our monthly trade bulletin are published at around a six-week lag because of the timeliness of source data. For example, the December 2020 publication will include data up to the end of October 2020.

End of EU exit transition period

After the transition period ends on 31 December 2020, the UK statistical system will continue to collect and produce our wide range of economic and social statistics. We are committed to continued alignment with international statistical standards, enabling comparability both over time and internationally and we will work with users of statistics to make sure they have the data they need to support the decisions they have to make.

Additionally, the Withdrawal Agreement outlines a need for UK gross national income (a fundamental component of the national accounts, which includes GDP) statistics to remain in line with those of other EU countries until EU budget contributions are finalised for the years in which we were a member, and making budget contributions during the transition period. To ensure this comparability during this period, the national accounts will continue to be produced according to European System of Accounts (ESA) 2010 definitions and standards until at least 2024.

As the shape of the UK’s future statistical relationship with the EU becomes clearer over the coming period, the ONS is making preparations to assume responsibilities that as part of our membership of the EU, and during the transition period, were delegated to the statistical office of the EU, Eurostat. This includes responsibilities relating to international comparability of economic statistics, deciding what international statistical guidance to apply in the UK context and to provide further scrutiny of our statistics and sector classification decisions.

In applying international statistical standards and best practice to UK economic statistics, we will draw on the technical advice of experts in the UK and internationally, and our work will be underpinned by the UK’s well-established and robust framework for independent official statistics, set out in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. Further information on our proposals will be made available in early 2021.

HMRC data

Data from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are the main data source for trade in goods, making up over 90% of trade in goods value. As the collection of customs data will change at the end of the transition period, the ONS is working closely with HMRC to prepare for this changing process. In order to maintain the quality of the data, we are working with HMRC to ensure our processes are robust and we only reflect changes in the economic trends.

Precious metals

In line with international standards, the ONS’s headline trade statistics contain the UK’s exports and imports of non-monetary gold.

Because a significant amount of the world’s trade in non-monetary gold takes place on the London markets, this trade can have a large impact on the size of and change in the UK’s headline trade figures. We present time series data for precious metals as well as total trade excluding this commodity, which may provide a better guide to the emerging trade picture. This includes precious metals and trade excluding precious metals by EU and non-EU countries.

Data on non-monetary gold and other precious metals are obtained from the Bank of England (BoE), who provide a balanced figure (exports less imports). We attribute the balanced data to either exports or imports, depending on whether the data are positive (that is, exports are greater than imports) or negative (that is, exports are less than imports) respectively. Once received from the BoE, the ONS smooths the precious metals data to ensure individual responses cannot be disclosed.

More information about the ONS’s recording of non-monetary gold is available.

Methodology

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.

Detailed methodological notes are published in the UK Balance of Payments, The Pink Book: 2020.

The UK trade methodology web pages have been developed to provide detailed information about the methods used to produce UK trade statistics.

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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12. Strengths and limitations

National Statistics designation status

The UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade (PDF, 72KB) 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. If you have any comments, please email them to trade@ons.gov.uk.

We are undertaking a programme of improvements to UK trade statistics in line with the UK trade development plan, including more detail and improvements now published to address anticipated future demands. On 24 October 2018, we published an article outlining our achievements so far and forward look with regards to the transformation of our trade statistics.

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 of bilateral trade flows are available from the statistical agencies for the relevant countries or through central databases such as UN Comtrade. Differences between estimates are known as trade asymmetries and are a known aspect of international trade statistics, affecting bilateral estimates across the globe, not just in the UK.

We are heavily engaged in analysis of these asymmetries, developing strong bilateral relationships with other countries to understand, explain and potentially reduce them. We have published a series of analyses showing comparisons and the relative strengths of different estimates, which users may wish to reference to help them better understand the quality of our bilateral trade estimates.

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Manylion cyswllt ar gyfer y Bwletin ystadegol

Abi Casey
trade@ons.gov.uk
Ffôn: +44 (0)1633 455121