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 2022 (e)2023 (e)2024 (e)2025 (e)2026 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change) 4.83.83.02.42.0
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) 8.43.42.11.81.6

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)
2021
United States 12.7%
Germany 8.7%
Switzerland 8.4%
Netherlands 7.9%
Ireland 6.2%
See More Countries 56.1%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
2021
China 13.2%
Germany 11.0%
United States 8.7%
Netherlands 6.0%
Norway 5.2%
See More Countries 55.8%

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

 
 

Main Products

470.6 bn USD of products exported in 2021
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 8.8%
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) 6.4%
Turbojets, turbopropellers and other gas turbinesTurbojets, turbopropellers and other gas turbines 4.9%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 4.2%
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) 4.0%
See More Products 71.6%
688.2 bn USD of products imported in 2021
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 7.8%
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) 5.0%
Petroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbonsPetroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbons 3.9%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 3.5%
Telephone sets, incl. telephones for cellular...Telephone sets, incl. telephones for cellular networks or for other wireless networks; other apparatus for the transmission or reception of voice, images or other data, incl. apparatus for communication in a wired or wireless network [such as a local or wide area network]; parts thereof (excl. than transmission or reception apparatus of heading 8443, 8525, 8527 or 8528) 2.6%
See More Products 77.3%

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

 
 

To go further, check out our service Import Export Flows.

 

Main Services

372.4 bn USD of services exported in 2019
38.02%
16.75%
14.14%
9.17%
6.83%
5.71%
5.34%
2.71%
1.32%
258.8 bn USD of services imported in 2019
36.64%
27.75%
13.37%
7.35%
6.18%
3.14%
3.04%
1.28%
1.26%

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, 2022. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

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Latest Update: November 2022

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