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Last Updated: 08. November 2019

Mapped: Top UK Import and Export Partners

An Analysis of the UK's International Trade

International trade has always been a very important factor for each country’s economic development, employment rates, and continuous supply of goods and services. In other words, trade contributes to more prosperous life of the country's citizens.

Therefore, Market Inspector looked into the UK’s exports and imports, which have always been of crucial importance for the UK economy. Through international trade, the UK is able to maintain its position in a highly competitive global economy.

To study the UK’s top trade partners Market Inspector used data from the UK’s Department for International Trade, published in October 2019. The study assessed the UK’s global trade partners, as well as EU partners. Furthermore, a more in-depth examination of the UK’s imports and exports, as well as the trade balance, was made.

Key Findings

  1. The United States (£118.2 billion), Germany (£55.4 billion), the Netherlands (£44.0 billion), France (£42.1 billion), and Ireland (£38.3 billion) were the UK's top export countries in 2018.

  2. The fastest-growing markets for exports of goods and services between 2010 and 2018 were North Macedonia (493%), Gibraltar (253%), South Korea (220%), Kazakhstan (199%), and Oman (161%).

  3. In 2018, the UK imported the most from Germany (£77.3 billion), the United States (£72.4 billion), the Netherlands (£49.1 billion), China (£45.4 billion), and France (£42.8 billion).

  4. The fastest-growing markets for imports of goods and services between 2010 and 2018 were Vietnam (243%), Saudi Arabia (201%), Algeria (166%), Bangladesh (131%), and Romania (129%).

  5. In the fourth quarter of 2018, the export value to non-EU countries was the highest with £91.2 billion. Yet, in the first quarter of 2019 it dropped to £85.5 billion.

  6. Imports from EU countries were the highest during the first quarter of 2019 with £93.6 billion.

  7. Imports from non-EU countries have been continuously growing in recent years. In the first quarter of 2019 it was the highest with £88.6 billion.

  8. The UK had a trade surplus with non-EU countries in recent years. It was the highest in the second quarter of 2017 and accounted for £11.4 billion.

  9. In the first quarter of 2019, the UK had a trade deficit of -£3.0 billion with non-EU countries for the first time in the last few years.

  10. In the first quarter of 2019, the country reached the highest deficit of -£19.3 billion with the EU countries.

  11. In 2018, total trade made up £1.3 trillion, which was 61.8% of GDP.

The findings were made through analysis of following elements:

The UK’s Global Top Export Partners

The United States was the UK’s biggest export partner (£118.2 billion), followed by Germany (£55.4 billion), the Netherlands (£44.0 billion) and France (£42.1 billion).

If you would like to share this interactive map, use the code below:

<iframe title="The UK's Top Export Partners" aria-label="World choropleth map" src="https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/zaEvd/2/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="border: none;" width="100%" height="400"></iframe><p style="font-style: italic; font-size: 10px; color: black;">Source: <a href="https://www.market-inspector.co.uk" target="_blank" style="font-style: italic; font-size: 10px; color: black;">market-inspector.co.uk</a></p>

 

Among the UK’s top five export partners were also Ireland (£38.3 billion) and China (£23.1 billion). Further, the UK exported a considerable amount to Italy (£19.7 billion), Switzerland (£19.6 billion), Belgium (£19.4 billion), and Spain (£17.6 billion).

Other important export countries were Japan (£14.3 billion), Hong Kong (£11.1 billion), and the United Arab Emirates (£10.6 billion).

While the United States remained the UK's biggest export market, eight out of the top ten export destinations were European countries. It is important to note here that Brexit will have a big impact on the trading industry in the UK, and the order of the top export destinations might look different after it. 

Top 5 Fastest-Growing Markets for UK Exports

According to the governmental data, top five fastest-growing markets for the UK exports between 2010 and 2018 were North Macedonia with 483% (£1.5 billion), Gibraltar with 253% (£3.0 billion), South Korea with 220% (£9.8 billion), Kazakhstan with 199% (£2.2 billion), and Oman with 161% (£1.6 billion).

Fastest-Growing Markets For UK Exports

Comparison of UK Exports to EU and Non-EU Countries

According to the data, between 2016 and 2019, the UK has exported more to non-EU than to EU countries, which can be seen on the graph below.

If you want to share this chart, use the code below:

<div style="clear:both"><iframe src="https://www.market-inspector.co.uk/embed/emebed-code-chart" frameborder="0" style="overflow-x: hidden; overflow-y: scroll; width: 100%;" height="500"></iframe><br /><a href="https://www.market-inspector.co.uk/blog/2019/10/uk-imports-and-exports" target="_blank">Market Inspector</a></div>

In the fourth quarter of 2018, the export value to non-EU countries was the highest with £91.2 billion. Yet, in the first quarter of 2019 it dropped to £85.6 billion.

The export to the EU reached its highest point in the fourth quarter of 2018 with £74.6 billion. The main export destinations were Germany with £55.4 billion, the Netherlands with £43.9 billion and France with £42.1 billion. However, the export to the EU dropped to £74.3 billion at the beginning of 2019.

The UK’s Global Top Import Partners

The interactive map below presents the UK’s import partners in 2018. According to the data, in 2018 the UK’s main import partners were Germany (£77.3 billion), the United States (£72.4 billion), the Netherlands (£49.1 billion), China (£45.4 billion), and France (£42.8 billion).

If you would like to share this interactive map, use the code below:

<iframe title="The UK's Top Import Partners" aria-label="World choropleth map" src="https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/TVii1/2/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="border: none;" width="100%" height="400"></iframe><p style="font-style: italic; font-size: 10px; color: black;">Source: <a href="https://www.market-inspector.co.uk" target="_blank" style="font-style: italic; font-size: 10px; color: black;">market-inspector.co.uk</a></p>

 

Other top import countries were Spain (£32.3 billion), Belgium (£29.1 billion), Italy (£24.8 billion), Ireland (£21.9 billion), Norway (£21.7 billion), Japan (£15.2 billion), Poland (£13.3 billion), and India (£12.5 billion).

In general, European countries sell more to the UK than non-EU countries.

Top 5 Fastest-Growing Markets for UK Imports

According to the governmental data, the top five fastest-growing markets for the UK imports between 2010 and 2018 were Vietnam with 243% (£4.5 billion), Saudi Arabia with 201% (£3.7 billion), Algeria with 166% (£2.3 billion), Bangladesh with 131% (£3.0 billion), and Romania with 129% (£3.4 billion).

Fastest-Growing Markets For UK Imports

Comparison of UK Imports from EU and Non-EU Countries

According to the data, EU countries remained the UK’s main import partners, which can be seen on the graph below.

If you want to share this chart, use the code below:

<div style="clear:both"><iframe src="https://www.market-inspector.co.uk/embed/uk-imports-from-the-eu-and-non-eu" frameborder="0" style="overflow-x: hidden; overflow-y: scroll; width: 100%;" height="500"></iframe><br /><a href="https://www.market-inspector.co.uk/blog/2019/10/uk-imports-and-exports" target="_blank">Market Inspector</a></div>

The import from EU countries increased from £89.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018, reaching its highest point during the first quarter of 2019 with £93.6 billion.

However, the statistics show that the import from non-EU countries is continuously growing in recent years. It widened from £72.7 billion in the first quarter of 2016 to £85.0 billion in the first quarter of 2018. 

In 2018, the UK imported the most from the United States (£72.4 billion), China (£45.4 billion), and Norway (£21.7 billion). Yet, in the first quarter of 2019 the import from non-EU countries was the highest with £88.6 billion. 

The UK’s Trade Surplus and Deficit: EU & Non-EU Countries

A trade surplus occurs when a country’s total value of exports is greater than the total value of imports. However, when the total value of imports exceeds the total value of exports, a country has a trade deficit.

According to Economic Theory

  • Continuing trade deficit might be detrimental to a country’s economy. To illustrate, when a country tends to import more than it exports, it might have a negative impact on employment level, interest rates, and currency value.
  • It should be noted that trade deficit might be a mirroring of consumer preferences in some cases.
  • Countries with persistent trade deficit tend to have more direct foreign investments.

The data shows that the UK had a surplus with non-EU countries in recent years. It was the highest in the second quarter of 2017 and accounted for £11.4 billion. However, in the first quarter of 2019, the UK had a deficit of -£3.0 billion with non-EU countries for the first time in the last few years.

In other words, in the first quarter of 2019 the UK imported more than it exported to non-EU countries, which can be seen on the graph below.

If you want to share this chart, use the code below:

<div style="clear:both"><iframe src="https://www.market-inspector.co.uk/embed/the-uks-surpluses-and-deficits" frameborder="0" style="overflow-x: hidden; overflow-y: scroll; width: 100%;" height="600"></iframe><br /><a href="https://www.market-inspector.co.uk/blog/2019/10/uk-imports-and-exports" target="_blank">Market Inspector</a></div>

Furthermore, the statistics show that in the period from 2016 to 2019, the UK continuously ran a trade deficit with EU countries. Most importantly, in the first quarter of 2019, the country reached the highest deficit of -£19.3 billion. In fact, the UK has run a trade deficit each year since 1998.

Interesting Fact

A trade deficit widened from -£15.2 billion in the first quarter of 2018 to -£19.4 billion in the first quarter of 2019.

Summary of the UK’s Total Trade

In 2018 total trade made up £1.3 trillion, of which the import was £665.0 billion and the export £634.0 billion. The total trade with EU countries comprised £641.9 billion, and 657.2 billion with non-EU countries.

That means that the share of the UK exports and imports of the GDP was 61.8% in 2018. The export’s share was 30% of GDP, which shows a slight decrease compared to 30.4% in 2017 and 30.7% in 2011.

On the other hand, the import was 31.8% of GDP, which is also an increase from 31.6% in 2017 and from 23.7% in 2004. Further, the trade deficit was on the level of 1.5% of GDP in 2018.

Methodology

For this analysis of the UK imports and exports, Market Inspector used mainly the “Trade and Investment Core Statistics Book” from the UK’s Department for International Trade which was updated in October 2019. The report combines data from various governmental sources and presents it in a consistent manner.

The aim of the current research is to highlight the most significant trends regarding the UK’s export and import. In the report, the reader can also find information on the country’s top trading partners and fastest-growing markets.

In addition, the report also discusses the differences between the UK’s trade with EU and non-EU countries, and also includes an overview of the country’s deficits and surpluses.

For the calculation of the UK’s trade balance, the following formula was used, where a negative value represents the deficit in trade and a positive value the surplus:

Total Value of Exports - Total Value of Imports = Trade Balance

Dataset

The data collected for the report can be found in the respective sections below.

The UK's Global Export and Import Partners (2018)

The UK's Export to EU and Non-EU Countries (2016 - 2019 Q1)

The UK's Import from EU and Non-EU Countries (2016 - 2019 Q1)

The UK's Trade Balance with EU and Non-EU Countries (2016 - 2019 Q1)