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Statistical bulletin: UK Trade, January 2015

Released: 12 March 2015 Download PDF

Main Points

  • UK Trade shows the extent of import and export activity and is a key contributor to the overall economic growth of the UK.
  • Seasonally adjusted, the UK’s deficit on trade in goods and services was estimated to have been £0.6 billion in January 2015, compared with £2.1 billion in December 2014. This reflects a deficit of £8.4 billion on goods, partially offset by an estimated surplus of £7.8 billion on services.
  • The sharp narrowing of the deficit reflects a fall of £2.5 billion in imports. Almost half of this fall (£1.2 billion) is attributed to oil imports, where trade remains volatile due to the well publicised oil price movements. The fall in oil imports is largely from countries outside the European Union (EU). In addition there were falls in all of the main commodities imported from the EU.
  • In the 3 months to January 2015 the UK's deficit on trade in goods and services was estimated to have been £4.4 billion; almost half of the deficit in the the 3 months to October 2014 (£8.0 billion). The latest 3 monthly deficit is the smallest since the 3 months to October 2000. This mainly reflects a 7.3% rise in exports of goods to countries outside the EU and falls in imports of goods from both EU and non-EU countries.

Main Figures

Table 1: Balance of UK Trade in Goods and Services, January 2015

          £ billion
    Balance of trade in goods Balance of trade in services Total trade balance
EU Non-EU Total
   
2014 Jan -6.8 -4.1 -10.9 6.7 -4.3
Nov -6.7 -2.6 -9.3 7.7 -1.6
Dec -6.8 -3.1 -9.9 7.8 -2.1
2015 Jan -6.7 -1.7 -8.4 7.8 -0.6

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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Figure 1: Balance of UK Trade

Figure 1: Balance of UK Trade
Source: Office for National Statistics

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Summary

The deficit of trade in goods and services for January 2015 narrowed to £0.6 billion, from £2.1 billion in the previous month. The trade position reflects exports minus imports. The £1.5 billion narrowing between December 2014 and January 2015 is the largest monthly narrowing since March 2014, when the deficit narrowed by £1.8 billion. Between December 2014 and January 2015, exports decreased by £1.0 billion to £42.3 billion and imports decreased by £2.5 billion to £42.9 billion.

The deficit on trade in goods was £8.4 billion in January 2015, narrowing by £1.5 billion from December 2014. Exports fell by £1.0 billion between December 2014 and January 2015, whilst imports fell more substantially, down £2.5 billion from December 2014. The fall in imports of goods is the largest monthly decrease since July 2006, when the import level fell by £2.8 billion.

In detail, exports of goods fell by £1.0 billion to £24.1 billion in January 2015. This decrease reflects a £0.8 billion fall in exports of fuels (primarily oil) and a £0.3 billion fall in exports of machinery and transport equipment. Fuel exports reached their lowest level since March 2007.

Imports of goods fell by £2.5 billion in January 2015, mainly reflecting a £1.3 billion fall in imports of fuels; specifically oil imports (down £1.2 billion from December 2014). Imports of manufactured goods fell by £0.9 billion between December 2014 and January 2015; within which, machinery and transport equipment, miscellaneous manufactures and chemicals each fell by £0.3 billion.

Focusing on trade in oil, exports stood at £1.6 billion in January 2015 (the lowest level since February 2007), down £0.8 billion from the previous month. Imports of oil stood at £2.2 billion in January 2015 (the lowest level since May 2009), down £1.2 billion from the previous month. In terms of volume, oil exports fell by 15.1% between December 2014 and January 2015 and imports fell by 12.5% over the same period. Despite the impact of trade in oil in recent months, the balance of trade in goods excluding oil also narrowed in January 2015, reaching a deficit of £7.8 billion; the lowest monthly deficit since June 2013.

In January 2015, exports to countries within the EU decreased by £1.3 billion. The decrease reflected a fall in fuels (down £0.8 billion) and manufactured goods (down £0.5 billion). Imports from EU countries fell by £1.5 billion between December 2014 and January 2015; decreases were seen in all main commodities, the most significant of which were chemicals, machinery and transport equipment and material manufactures which each decreased by £0.3 billion.

Outside the EU, exports rose by £0.3 billion in January 2015. Exports of miscellaneous manufactures rose by £0.5 billion, material manufactures rose by £0.3 billion and chemical manufactures rose by £0.2 billion. These increases were partially offset by falls in exports of unspecified goods (down £0.3 billion) and machinery and transport equipment (down £0.2 billion). Imports from countries outside the EU fell by £1.1 billion reflecting a £1.1 billion decrease in fuels; particularly oil. Almost all of the decrease in fuel imports for January 2015 are attributed to trade with non-EU countries.

Trade statistics for any 1 month can be erratic. For that reason, it is recommended to compare the latest 3 months against the preceding 3 months and the same 3 months of the preceding year.

In the 3 months to January 2015, the trade in goods deficit narrowed by £2.6 billion to £27.7 billion. The narrowing reflects a £1.5 billion rise in exports and a £1.1 billion fall in imports. At the commodity level, the narrowing of the 3 monthly deficit is mainly attributed to trade in fuels as although exports fell by £1.5 billion, imports fell by more, £2.7 billion. Machinery and transport equipment remains the commodity with the largest 3 monthly deficit (£9.7 billion).

By area, in the 3 months to January 2015 the UK’s balance with the EU widened by £0.9 billion; mainly reflecting a £1.1 billion fall in exports and, in particular, fuel exports which fell by £1.3 billion. The UK’s balance with non-EU countries narrowed by £3.4 billion in the 3 months to January 2015 as exports rose by £2.6 billion; £2.4 billion of this increase is attributed to exports of manufactured goods. Over the same period, imports from countries outside of the EU fell by £0.8 billion (reflecting a £2.0 billion decrease in fuel imports).

This bulletin also reports on trade in services. However, the information on trade in services is mainly obtained from quarterly surveys, in some cases underpinned by larger annual surveys. That means that the data for the latest months are inevitably uncertain.

The surplus on trade in services for January 2015 was estimated at £7.8 billion, unchanged when compared with December 2014, with very little change in the levels of exports (£18.2 billion) and imports (£10.4 billion).

In annual terms, the surplus on trade in services widened by £8.5 billion between 2013 and 2014, reflecting a rise in exports and a decrease in imports. Exports of services were estimated to have risen by £5.6 billion to £214.7 billion in 2014. Imports of services were estimated to have fallen by £2.9 billion to £127.4 billion in 2014. Annually, the rise in exports of services reflected an increase in exports of insurance and other business services.

Longer-Term Perspective

The value of trade in goods grew steadily from the beginning of 2007 to mid-2008. The onset of the global economic downturn in mid-2008 affected the economic performance of the UK’s major trading partners and the value of both UK exports and imports fell sharply until Q2 2009. Growth in the value of trade in goods resumed from mid-2009 with improving global economic conditions. However, the value of both UK exports and imports has remained largely flat since mid-2011 because of the continuing difficulties in many economies.

Value of UK Trade in Goods

In January 2015, the UK’s deficit on trade in goods was £8.4 billion, narrowing by £1.5 billion from December 2014.

Total exports decreased by £1.0 billion (4.1%) to £24.1 billion and total imports decreased by £2.5 billion (7.2%) to £32.5 billion.

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Change in Key Commodity Value, January 2015 compared with December 2014

Exports (£m) Imports (£m)
Oil (see section on 'trade in oil') -803 -1,225
Cars +18 +6
Consumer goods other than cars +312 -180
Intermediate goods -143 -148
Capital goods -57 -245
Chemicals +46 -271
Semi-manufactured goods other than chemicals +156 +7

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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In the 3 months ending January 2015, the deficit on trade in goods was £27.7 billion, narrowing by £2.6 billion from the 3 months ending October 2014.

Total exports increased by £1.5 billion (2.0%) to £73.8 billion and total imports decreased by £1.1 billion (1.1%) to £101.4 billion.

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Change in Key Commodity Value, November 2014 to January 2015 compared with August to October 2014

              Exports (£m)   Imports (£m)
Oil (see section on 'trade in oil') -1,252 -2,633
Cars +252 +437
Consumer goods other than cars +357 -146
Intermediate goods +658 +280
Capital goods +47 +457
Chemicals +874 +373
Semi-manufactured goods other than chemicals      +360   -407

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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Figure 2: Value of UK Trade in Goods

Figure 2: Value of UK Trade in Goods
Source: Office for National Statistics

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Figure 3: Value of UK Trade in Goods Excluding Oil

Figure 3: Value of UK Trade in Goods Excluding Oil
Source: Office for National Statistics

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Trade in Goods - Analysis by Area

Monthly Analysis

In January 2015, the deficit on trade in goods with EU countries narrowed by £0.1 billion to £6.7 billion. The deficit on trade in goods with non-EU countries narrowed by £1.4 billion to £1.7 billion (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Balance of Trade in Goods - EU and Non-EU Countries

Figure 4: Balance of Trade in Goods - EU and Non-EU Countries
Source: Office for National Statistics

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Between December 2014 and January 2015, exports to the EU decreased by £1.3 billion (10.9%) to £11.0 billion. Exports to the Netherlands decreased by £0.5 billion, to Belgium and Luxembourg (combined), and to the Irish Republic by £0.2 billion and to Sweden, Italy, France, Germany and Poland by £0.1 billion.

Between December 2014 and January 2015, imports from the EU decreased by £1.5 billion (7.7%) to £17.6 billion. Imports from Germany decreased by £0.5 billion, from Italy by £0.4 billion and from the Netherlands by £0.2 billion. Imports from Belgium and Luxembourg (combined), Sweden and Hungary each decreased by £0.1 billion. 

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 4.

Table 4: Change in Key Commodity Value (EU), January 2015 compared with December 2014

Exports (£m) Imports (£m)
Oil (see section on 'trade in oil') -800 -164
Cars -17 -20
Consumer goods other than cars -75 -53
Intermediate goods -116 -212
Capital goods -110 -132
Chemicals -125 -314
Semi-manufactured goods other than chemicals -96 -263

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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Between December 2014 and January 2015, exports to non-EU countries increased by £0.3 billion (2.5%) to £13.1 billion. Exports to the USA increased by £1.1 billion. This increase was partially offset by a decrease in exports to Switzerland of £1.0 billion. 

Between December 2014 and January 2015, imports from non-EU countries decreased by £1.1 billion (6.7%) to £14.9 billion. Imports from Canada and Norway decreased by £0.4 billion. 

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 5.

Table 5: Change in Key Commodity Value (Non-EU), January 2015 compared with December 2014

              Exports (£m)   Imports (£m)
Oil (see section on 'trade in oil') -3 -1,061
Cars +35 +26
Consumer goods other than cars +387 -127
Intermediate goods -27 +64
Capital goods +53 -113
Chemicals +171 +43
Semi-manufactured goods other than chemicals      +252   +270

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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3 Monthly Analysis

In the 3 months ending January 2015, the deficit on trade in goods with EU countries widened by £0.9 billion to £20.2 billion.

Between the 3 months ending October 2014 and the 3 months ending January 2015, exports to the EU decreased by £1.2 billion (3.2%) to £35.3 billion. Exports to the Netherlands and France decreased by £0.6 billion.  

Between the 3 months ending October 2014 and the 3 months ending January 2015, imports from the EU decreased by £0.3 billion (0.5%) to £55.5 billion. Imports decreased from the Netherlands by £0.4 billion and from Belgium and Luxembourg (combined) by £0.3 billion. These decreases were partially offset by an increase in imports from Germany of £0.3 billion. 

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 6.

Table 6: Change in Key Commodity Value (EU), November 2014 to January 2015 compared with August to October 2014

Exports (£m) Imports (£m)
Oil (see section on 'trade in oil') -1,053 -489
Cars +160 +496
Consumer goods other than cars -46 -151
Intermediate goods +87 -6
Capital goods -33 +112
Chemicals +141 +36
Semi-manufactured goods other than chemicals -47 -122

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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In the 3 months ending January 2015, the deficit on trade in goods with non-EU countries narrowed by £3.4 billion to £7.5 billion.

Between the 3 months ending October 2014 and the 3 months ending January 2015, exports to non-EU countries increased by £2.6 billion (7.3%) to £38.4 billion. Exports to the USA increased by £1.5 billion. 

Between the 3 months ending October 2014 and the 3 months ending January 2015, imports from non-EU countries decreased by £0.8 billion (1.8%) to £46.0 billion. Imports from Canada decreased by £0.7 billion, from Switzerland by £0.5 billion and from Nigeria by £0.4 billion. These decreases were partially offset by an increase in imports from the USA of £0.4 billion. 

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 7.

Table 7: Change in Key Commodity Value (Non-EU), November 2014 to January 2015 compared with August to October 2014

              Exports (£m)   Imports (£m)
Oil (see section on 'trade in oil') -199 -2,144
Cars +92 -59
Consumer goods other than cars +403 +5
Intermediate goods +571 +286
Capital goods +80 +345
Chemicals +733 +337
Semi-manufactured goods other than chemicals      +407   -285

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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Trade in Goods - Geographical Analysis

Although the UK’s top 5 export trading partners were unchanged in January 2015 when compared with December 2014, exports to the USA were at a record high at £4.3 billion, an increase of £1.1 billion. Outside of the top 5 Switzerland moved from 5th to 10th place when compared with December 2014 due to a fall in exports of £1.0 billion (Table 8). Outside of the top 10, exports to both Japan and the United Arab Emirates were at a record high at £0.6 billion in January 2015. 

In January 2015, Germany remained the UK’s top import trading partner, with imports of £4.9 billion. An increase in imports from China of £0.2 billion and a decrease in imports from the USA of £0.2 billion meant these countries switched as the UK’s second and third largest import trading partners when compared with December 2014 (Table 8). Outside of the top 10, imports from Turkey were at a record high at £0.6 billion in January 2015; an increase of £0.1 billion when compared with December 2014.

In the 3 months ending January 2015, there were record exports to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Exports to the United Arab Emirates increased by £0.3 billion to £1.7 billion and to Saudi Arabia by £0.2 billion to £1.2 billion.  There were also record imports from the USA, which increased by £0.4 billion to £8.2 billion.

Table 8: Change in Monthly Trade with Significant Partner Countries, January 2015 compared with December 2014

    Exports (£m)       Imports (£m)
    January 2015 Value 1-month Change       January 2015 Value 1-month Change
1 USA           4,289 +1,090 1 Germany 4,883 -516
2 Germany 2,535 -111 2 China 3,027 +241
3 France 1,449 -74 3 USA 2,742 -150
4 Netherlands 1,434 -454 4 Netherlands 2,433 -174
5 Irish Republic 1,259 -208 5 France 2,017 -16
6 Belgium and Luxembourg 927 -205 6 Belgium and Luxembourg 1,606 -115
7 China 913 -330 7 Italy 1,218 -371
8 Spain 755 +23 8 Spain 1,145 +45
9 Italy 688 -55 9 Irish Republic 1,077 -24
10 Switzerland 587 -1,019 10 Norway 984 -371

Table source: Office for National Statistics

Table notes:

  1. Significant trading partners defined as top 10 export markets and import sources 2014 (see attached table 14).

  2. USA includes Puerto Rico.

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Figure 5: Significant Partner Countries, One-Month Balances, January 2015

Figure 5: Significant Partner Countries, One-Month Balances, January 2015
Source: Office for National Statistics

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Table 9: Change in 3-Monthly Trade with Significant Partner Countries, November 2014 to January 2015 compared with August to October 2014

    November 2014 - January 2015 Value 3-Month Change       November 2014 - January 2015 Value 3-Month Change
1 USA           10,602 +1,503 1 Germany 15,454 +304
2 Germany 7,673 +223 2 China 8,783 +290
3 Netherlands 5,156 -566 3 USA 8,169 +375
4 France 4,575 -567 4 Netherlands 7,496 -381
5 Irish Republic 4,277 -249 5 France 6,148 -78
6 Switzerland 3,631 +28 6 Belgium and Luxembourg 5,227 -281
7 China 3,595 +67 7 Italy 4,264 +20
8 Belgium and Luxembourg 3,161 +64 8 Spain 3,444 +103
9 Spain 2,252 +7 9 Norway 3,372 +253
10 Italy 2,113 -27 10 Irish Republic 3,186 +120

Table source: Office for National Statistics

Table notes:

  1. Significant trading partners defined as top 10 export markets and import sources 2014 (see attached table 14).
  2. USA includes Puerto Rico.

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Figure 6: Significant Partner Countries, 3-Month Balances, November 2014 to January 2015

Figure 6: Significant Partner Countries, 3-Month Balances, November 2014 to January 2015
Source: Office for National Statistics

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Volume of Total Trade in Goods, Excluding Oil and Erratics

Between December 2014 and January 2015, the total volume of exports increased by 2.2% and the total volume of imports decreased by 4.0%.

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 10.

Table 10: Change in Key Commodity Volume, January 2015 compared with December 2014

Exports % change Imports % change
Food, beverages and tobacco -5.2 -5.6
Basic materials +1.1 -11.6
Semi-manufactured goods; of which +1.9 -2.0
Chemicals -0.9 -2.9
Finished manufactured goods; of which -0.9 -3.4
Cars -2.4 +2.0
Consumer goods other than cars +9.8 -4.7
Intermediate goods -1.9 -1.8
Capital goods -1.0 -5.9

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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In the 3 months ending January 2015, the volume of exports increased by 3.4% and the volume of imports increased by 0.8% when compared with the previous 3 months.

At the commodity level, the data are shown in Table 11.

Table 11: Change in Key Commodity Volume, November 2014 to January 2015 compared with August to October 2014

      Exports % change Imports % change
Food, beverages and tobacco +0.7 -0.3
Basic materials +3.3 -0.9
Semi-manufactured goods; of which +6.8 +1.4
   Chemicals +9.1 +5.5
Finished manufactured goods; of which +2.8 +1.8
   Cars +1.6 +7.2
   Consumer goods other than cars +5.0 -2.5
   Intermediate goods +4.4 +0.9
   Capital goods +0.3 +1.8

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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Export and Import Prices for Trade in Goods (Not Seasonally Adjusted)

In January 2015, compared with December 2014, export prices decreased by 2.2% and import prices decreased by 1.7%. Excluding the oil price effect, export prices decreased by 0.4% and import prices decreased by 0.2%.

In the 3 months ending January 2015, when compared with the previous 3 months, export prices decreased by 3.0% and import prices decreased by 2.7%. Excluding the oil price effect, export prices increased by 0.2% and import prices increased by 0.3%.

Figure 7: UK Trade in Goods Export and Import Prices

Figure 7: UK Trade in Goods Export and Import Prices
Source: Office for National Statistics

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Trade in Oil

In January 2015, the balance on trade in oil was in deficit by £0.6 billion, compared with a deficit of £1.0 billion in December 2014. Oil exports decreased by £0.8 billion to £1.6 billion and oil imports decreased by £1.2 billion to £2.2 billion.

In the 3 months ending January 2015, the balance on trade in oil was in deficit by £2.1 billion, narrowing by £1.4 billion when compared with the previous 3 months. Oil exports decreased by £1.3 billion to £6.3 billion and oil imports decreased by £2.6 billion to £8.4 billion.

Figure 8: Balance of Trade in Oil

Figure 8: Balance of Trade in Oil
Source: Office for National Statistics

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Trade in Services

In January 2015, the UK’s estimated surplus on trade in services was £7.8 billion.

Exports in January 2015 were estimated to have been £18.2 billion and imports £10.4 billion.

In the 3 months ending January 2015, the estimated surplus on trade in services was £23.3 billion.

In the 3 months ending January 2015, exports were estimated to have been £54.5 billion and imports £31.2 billion.

Figure 9: Value of UK Trade in Services

Figure 9: Value of UK Trade in Services
Source: Office for National Statistics

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The surplus on trade in services for January 2015 was estimated at £7.8 billion, unchanged when compared with December 2014, with very little change in the levels of exports (£18.2 billion) and imports (£10.4 billion).

In annual terms, the surplus on trade in services widened by £8.5 billion between 2013 and 2014, reflecting a rise in exports and a decrease in imports. Exports of services were estimated to have risen by £5.6 billion to £214.7 billion in 2014. Imports of services were estimated to have fallen by £2.9 billion to £127.4 billion in 2014. Annually, the rise in exports of services reflected an increase in exports of insurance and other business services.

Revisions

Trade in services data have been revised from January 2014.

Exports of services have been revised upwards by  £7.0 billion over the 4 quarters of 2014 from £207.7 billion to £214.7 billion due mainly to revisions of other direct insurance services of £2.0 billion in the 1st quarter of 2014, and other business services of £6.6 billion spread across the 4 quarters of 2014. These revisions were partially offset by smaller downward revisions elsewhere. The largest revisions to other business services were from business management and management consulting where estimates from the ONS International Trade in Services (ITIS) survey replaced forecasts.

Imports of services were also revised upwards, totalling £4.7 billion over the four quarters of 2014. from £122.6 billion to £127.4 billion due mainly to an increase in other business services of £3.3 billion.

The overall impact of these revisions on the trade in services balance is a widening of the surplus from £85.1 billion to £87.3 billion.  These revisions are consistent with the estimates published in the Second Estimate of GDP on 26 February 2015.

Records Sheet

The UK Trade record information for January 2015 (35.5 Kb Excel sheet) can be accessed on our website.

Background notes

  1. What's New?

    The UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK Trade on 14 November 2014. The Authority's re-assessment of UK Trade against the Code of Practice for Official Statistics is now underway. More details are available from the Authority's website.

    EMU Enlargement

    As of 1 January 2015, Lithuania joined the European Monetary Union (EMU). Therefore the EMU totals in this UK Trade release include Lithuania.

    Related Publications

    On 6 February 2015, ONS published an article on the Rotterdam effect and its potential impact on the UK trade in goods estimates.

    On 23 January 2015, ONS published a short story exploring the reasons behind the UK Trade deficit.

    Erratics

    Non-monetary gold is now included in the erratics series; along with ships, aircraft, precious stones and silver. In compliance with the BPM6 changes, non-monetary gold which is held as a store of wealth, is now recorded within trade in goods.

    Non-Monetary Gold

    To comply with international statistical guidelines, we introduced estimates for trade in non-monetary gold and other precious metals into the quarterly national accounts from 30 September 2014, and the monthly UK Trade statistics released on 10 October 2014. In developing these estimates further it had been proposed to use data from a Bank of England (BoE) survey, collecting estimates of physical holdings of gold and other precious metals for the reporting period March 2013 onwards, as described in the article 'Measurement of Non-monetary Gold' published on 23 January 2014.

    However, on receiving the aggregated survey results, the data were volatile with large monthly changes that, despite being on a net trade basis, significantly distorted the estimated monthly trade balance. Due to this volatility and given that the survey is relatively new, having only commenced from the reporting period March 2013, it has been decided to undertake further work to quality assure these data and to review the methods used to measure non-monetary gold and other precious metals more generally. In addition, further disclosure assessment is required to ensure the confidentiality of businesses within the survey is maintained. So, the method used for the series pre-2013, derived from BoE information of gold as a store of wealth by UK MFIs, has been extended with the survey information being used to inform the movements of the later periods, but rescaled to the level of the pre-2013 data.

    We will keep users informed of progress and it is likely we will seek views on how best to proceed.

    Revisions

    In this release, periods from January 2014 are open for revision.

  2. Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) Fraud

    Users should be aware that in some periods, the monthly data does not sum precisely to the quarters (or the quarters to the annual), for the MTIC series due to rounding.

    Deflation

    It is common for the value of a group of financial transactions to be measured in several time periods. The values measured will include both the change in the volume sold and the effect of the change of prices over that year. Deflation is the process whereby the effect of price change is removed from a set of values.

    Chain-linked indices (chained volume measures) which are indexed to form the volume series in this bulletin differ from fixed base indices in that the growth from one year to the next is estimated by weighting the components using the contribution to value of trade in the immediately preceding year (effectively re-basing every year). This series of annually re-weighted annual growths is then ‘chain-linked’ to produce a continuous series.

    The implied price deflators derived by comparing current price data to chained volume measures data are not the same as the price indices published in this statistical bulletin because the former are current weighted while the latter are base (2011) weighted.

    Changes in trade associated with VAT MTIC fraud mean that comparisons of volume and prices (both including and excluding trade associated with VAT MTIC fraud) should be treated with a great deal of caution.

  3. Special Events

    An article outlining the ONS policy on special events is available on our website.

  4. Code of Practice for Official Statistics

    National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference. © Crown copyright 2015.

  5. Short Guide to UK Trade

    Ever since statistics on exports and imports of goods were first collected in 1697, UK trade has been one of the country’s key economic indicators.

    All information included in the monthly UK Trade statistical bulletin is on a Balance of Payments (BoP) basis and is seasonally adjusted unless otherwise specified. The release contains tables showing the total value of trade in goods together with index numbers of volume and price, figures analysed by broad commodity group (values and indices) and according to geographical area (values only). In addition the UK Trade statistical bulletin also includes early monthly estimates of the value of trade in services.

    Data appearing in the UK Trade statistical bulletin are also used as a direct input into the quarterly Balance of Payments and National Accounts.

    Interpreting the data

    In months where quarterly and 3 monthly ending percentage changes for index data coincide, there may be small differences between the data for methodological reasons. Quarterly data are the indexed form of an underlying constant price (for volume indices) or consistent quantity (for price indices) series. 3 month ending data are the average of the index data in that period.

    VAT Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) fraud

    Import figures for trade in goods include adjustments to allow for the impact of VAT MTIC fraud.

    The adjustments to trade in goods relate only to part of the carousel version of VAT MTIC fraud. This fraud leads to under recording of imports as fraudsters import goods from the EU, which they then sell on before disappearing without paying VAT on that sale. The goods are eventually exported. Such exports are declared and are therefore already reflected in the UK’s trade in goods statistics.

    Changes to the pattern of trading associated with MTIC fraud can make it difficult to analyse trade by commodity group and by country as changes in the impact of activity associated with this fraud affect both imports and exports. However, the MTIC trade adjustments are added to the EU import estimates derived from Intrastat returns as it is this part of the trading chain that is not generally recorded. In particular, adjustments affect trade in capital goods and intermediate goods–these categories include mobile phones and computer components, which are still the most widely affected goods.

    International convention determines that the treatment of the impact is to adjust imports upwards by the relevant amounts of missing declarations (non-response). However, users may wish to interpret short-term movements in imports excluding that part of the fraudulent activity that is not included in the import estimates. For this purpose, an analysis of the import figures with the VAT MTIC adjustments excluded is shown in Table 13.

    Definitions and explanations

    A glossary of terms is published in the UK Balance of Payments - The Pink Book, 2014.

    Use of the data

    UK Trade is a key economic indicator due to the importance of international trade to the UK economy. It is also a very timely statistic, providing an early indicator of what is happening more generally in the economy.

    In addition, it is a major component of two other key economic statistics: UK gross domestic product (GDP) and the UK Balance of Payments. This means that there is a threefold potential for UK Trade statistics to inform the government’s view of the UK economy, as well as the views of others, such as economists, City analysts, academics, the media and international organisations.

    Notes on tables

    Rounding:
    The sum of constituent items in tables does not always agree exactly with the totals shown due to rounding.

    Symbols:
    .. Not applicable
    - Nil or less than half the final digit shown.

  6. Methods

    Composition of the data

    Detailed methodological notes are published in the UK Balance of Payments - The Pink Book, 2014.

    Seasonal adjustment

    Seasonal adjustment aims to remove effects associated with the time of the year or the arrangement of the calendar so that movements within a time series may be more easily interpreted.

  7. Quality

    Basic quality information

    Accuracy: Trade in goods figures for the most recent months are provisional and subject to revision in the light of:

    • late trader data, revisions to trade prices and revised estimates of trading associated with VAT MTIC fraud, and

    • revisions to seasonal adjustment factors which are re-estimated every month.

    Trade in services estimates have been derived from a number of monthly and quarterly sources. For components where no monthly data are available, estimates have been derived on the basis of recent trends. The results should be used with appropriate caution, as they are therefore likely to be less reliable than those for trade in goods.

    Reliability: Revisions to data provide one indication of the reliability of key indicators. The table below shows summary information on the size and direction of the revisions which have been made to the data covering a five-year period. A statistical test has been applied to the average revision to find out if it is statistically significantly different from zero. An asterisk (*) shows that the test is significant.

    On 9 May 2005, ONS published an article explaining the past revisions performance for UK Trade statistics and what is being done to improve the first published estimates, on 9 May 2005.

    Table 12: Revisions Analysis, UK Trade, January 2015

    £million
      Revisions between first publication and estimates twelve months later
      Value in latest period Average over the last 5 years (mean revision) Average over the last 5 years without regard to sign (average absolute revision)
    Total trade exports (IKBH) 42,314  646 884
    Total trade imports (IKBI) 42,930  303  564
    Total trade balance (IKBJ) -616  346  650

    Table source: Office for National Statistics

    Download table

    The table covers estimates of UK trade first published from April 2010 (for February 2010) to March 2014 (for December 2013). Revision spreadsheets giving these estimates and the calculations behind the averages in the table are available on the ONS website.

    The May 2007 edition of Economic and Labour Market Review, published by ONS, includes an article analysing past revisions to quarterly balance of payments current account data (2.33 Mb Pdf) .

    More information about revisions material in this statistical bulletin can be found on our website.

  8. EMU Coverage

    The coverage of EMU countries was extended to cover Cyprus and Malta from July 2008, Slovakia from January 2009, Estonia from January 2011, Latvia from January 2014 and Lithuania from January 2015. Some EU and non-EU breakdowns of commodity data for chained volume measures which are available on request may be less reliable than the current price data. Please consult Katherine Kent on +44 (0)1633 455829 if you are considering using them.

    Data have been combined for the United States and Puerto Rico and for Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah (the United Arab Emirates) from January 2009 onwards. Estimates are separately available for the United States and Dubai up to the end of 2008 on request.

  9. Summary quality report

    A Summary Quality Report (283.9 Kb Pdf) for this statistical bulletin and associated data can be found on the ONS website.

  10. National Accounts revisions policy

    National Accounts revision policy (41.6 Kb Pdf) can be found on the ONS website.

  11. Revisions

    Revisions Table 17R shows revisions to the main aggregates since the last Trade Statistical Bulletin of 6 February 2015. The revisions to trade in goods from January 2014 reflect revised data from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and other data suppliers, revised estimates of trading associated with VAT MTIC fraud, later survey data on trade prices and a re-assessment of seasonal factors.

    Trade in services data have been revised from January 2014 onwards as a result from taking on various updated survey estimates, which, in some cases,  replaced forecasts. Further details can be found in the trade in services section.

  12. Publication policy

    A list of the organisations given pre-publication access to the contents of this bulletin can be found on our website.

  13. Accessing data

    Supplementary quarterly data analysed by industry according to the Classification of Product by Activity (08) (UK Trade in Goods by Classification of Product by Activity) are also available.

    The complete run of data in the tables of this statistical bulletin are also available to view and download in other electronic formats free of charge using the ONS Time Series Data website service. Users can download the complete statistical bulletin in a choice of zipped formats, or view and download their own selections of individual series.

    We are constantly aiming to improve this release and its associated commentary. We would welcome any feedback you might have and would be particularly interested in knowing how you make use of these data to inform your work. To provide feedback on the bulletin please see the link to our live survey questionnaire or to request further information, please contact us via email on trade.in.goods@ons.gsi.gov.uk

    Overseas Trade Statistics

    HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) publish Overseas Trade Statistics on the same day as ONS release the UK Trade data each month. The aggregate estimates here will differ slightly from those that are published by the Office for National Statistics as part of the Balance of Payments (BoP), as the two sets of data are compiled to different sets of rules. The BoP publication shows a high level picture of UK trade-in-goods, whereas the OTS publication shows a detailed picture of the UK’s trade-in-goods by commodity and partner country. 

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  17. Next publication: 9 April 2015

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  18. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

Statistical contacts

Name Phone Department Email
Katherine Kent +44 (0)1633 455829 UK Trade/Trade and Transfers trade.in.goods@ons.gsi.gov.uk
Get all the tables for this publication in the data section of this publication .
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