United Kingdom flag United Kingdom: Economic and Political Overview

Foreign trade figures of the United Kingdom

Foreign Trade in Figures

The United Kingdom is one of the main players in international commerce, with foreign trade representing 55.5% of its GDP in 2020, down from 62.9% one year earlier (World Bank). The country is the fifth-largest importer and eleventh exporter of goods in the world, and the second-largest exporter and fifth-largest importer of commercial services in the world (WTO). In 2020, the country mainly imported cars, medicaments, clothing, telecommunication equipment and office machinery; whereas exports were driven by motor cars, medicaments, mechanical power generators, crude oil and non-ferrous metals (ONS). However, in 2020 both imports and exports fell drastically (-20% and -14.6%, respectively according to the IMF) as a consequence of the unprecedented global economic crisis that followed the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with uncertainties related to the Brexit process. On 1 May 2021, the UK-EU trade deal came into force, granting the UK “zero tariff, zero quota” for its exports towards the EU. Nevertheless, a whole series of new customs and regulatory checks have been introduced, including rules of origin and stringent local content requirements, which could make the procedures more burdensome and thus hinder mutual trade.

In fact, the EU as a whole is the main trading partner of the United Kingdom. At a country level, the UK mainly exports towards the United States (14.1%), Germany (10.5%), Ireland (7%), the Netherlands (6.4%), and France (6%); whereas its main suppliers are China (11.9%), Germany (9.7%), the United States (9.2%), the Netherlands (7.3%) and France (4.7%). In order to diversify its business partners, the UK signed trade deals and agreements in principle with 69 countries and one with the EU.

The country has a structural trade deficit, even though it has a large surplus in the services sector. According to WTO data, in 2020 the United Kingdom imported USD 634.7 million worth of goods (-8.7% y-o-y) and exported USD 404.7 million (-13.8% y-o-y); in the same year, exports of services stood at USD 338.8 billion (-15.6% y-o-y), against USD 201.1 billion in imports (-26.2% y-o-y). In 2020, the total trade deficit, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, narrowed by GBP 11.3 billion to GBP 15.0 billion (ONS).

 
Foreign Trade Values 20162017201820192020
Imports of Goods (million USD) 635,762643,515672,267695,798634,742
Exports of Goods (million USD) 409,397441,106486,439469,684404,681
Imports of Services (million USD) 198,653207,037260,767272,717201,163
Exports of Services (million USD) 327,176353,077410,685401,430338,804

Source: World Trade Organisation (WTO) ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Indicators 20162017201820192020
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 58.361.763.063.455.1
Trade Balance (million USD) -179,293-174,421-182,425-167,289-148,740
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) -48,621-38,428-33,752-35,041-10,819
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 3.92.62.72.7-17.8
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 2.75.43.02.7-15.8
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 30.031.632.132.327.7
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 28.230.130.931.127.4

Source: World Bank ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Forecasts 20212022 (e)2023 (e)2024 (e)2025 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change) 0.48.73.82.92.5
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) 1.69.83.62.72.4

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook ; Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

 
International Economic Cooperation
The United Kingdom is a member of the following international economic organisations: IMF, Commonwealth, G-5, G-8, G-10, G-20, ICC, WHO, OECD, among others. For the full list of economic and other international organisations in which participates the United Kingdom click here. International organisation membership of the United Kingdom is also outlined here.
Free Trade Agreements
The complete and up-to-date list of Free Trade Agreements signed by the United Kingdom can be consulted here.
 

Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
2020
United States 14.1%
Germany 10.5%
Ireland 7.0%
Netherlands 6.4%
France 6.0%
See More Countries 56.0%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
2020
China 11.9%
Germany 11.7%
United States 9.2%
Netherlands 7.3%
France 4.7%
See More Countries 55.1%

Source: Comtrade, 2022. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 
 

Main Products

395.7 bn USD of products exported in 2020
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 6.7%
Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought...Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought or not further worked than semi-manufactured or in powder form 5.4%
Turbo-jets, turbo-propellers and other gas...Turbo-jets, turbo-propellers and other gas turbines 5.1%
Medicaments consisting of mixed or unmixed...Medicaments consisting of mixed or unmixed products for therapeutic or prophylactic uses, put up in measured doses incl. those in the form of transdermal administration or in forms or packings for retail sale (excl. goods of heading 3002, 3005 or 3006) 4.7%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 4.1%
See More Products 74.1%
634.2 bn USD of products imported in 2020
Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought...Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought or not further worked than semi-manufactured or in powder form 13.9%
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 5.5%
Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line...Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line telegraphy, incl. line telephone sets with cordless handsets and telecommunication apparatus for carrier-current line systems or for digital line systems; videophones; parts thereof 3.0%
Automatic data processing machines and units...Automatic data processing machines and units thereof; magnetic or optical readers, machines for transcribing data onto data media in coded form and machines for processing such data, n.e.s. 2.6%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 2.5%
See More Products 72.6%

Source: Comtrade, 2022. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 
 

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Latest Update: June 2022