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UK trade: Jan 2017

Total value of UK imports and exports of goods together with indices of volume and price, including an early monthly estimate of the value of trade in services.

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Table of contents

  1. Main points
  2. Things you need to know about this release
  3. The deficit on trade in goods and services remains at £2.0 billion in January 2017
  4. What was the underlying trend in trade in goods, excluding oil and erratics?
  5. What was the impact of sterling on the prices and volumes of exports and imports of goods?
  6. Who are the UK’s biggest trade partners?
  7. What are the revisions to 2016 trade values since last month?
  8. Links to related statistics
  9. Quality and methodology
Main points

  • The trade deficit in goods and services in January 2017 was £2.0 billion, unchanged from December 2016.
  • Between the 3 months to October 2016 and the 3 months to January 2017, the total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed by £4.7 billion to £6.4 billion.
  • At the commodity level, the main contributors to the narrowing of the total trade deficit in the 3 months to January 2017, were increased exports of non-monetary gold, oil, machinery and transport equipment (mainly electrical machinery, aircraft and cars) and chemicals.
  • The trade in goods deficit for the 3 months to January 2017 narrowed by £4.1 billion to £33.1 billion compared with the 3 months to October 2016.
  • In 2016, excluding oil and other erratic commodities, the underlying trend in trade in goods is a widening of the deficit; with both exports and imports of goods increasing each quarter of the year.
  • Following the UK trade December 2016 release the quarter 4 (October to December) 2016 total trade (goods and services) balance has been revised upwards by £3.5 billion.
Things you need to know about this release

The format and content of this publication changed from January 2017 to improve the way we publish economic statistics, with related data grouped together under new “theme” days. This will increase the coherence of our data releases and involve minor changes to the timing of certain publications. For more information, see Changes to publication schedule for economic statistics. Please provide us with your feedback on the new style bulletin using our short online survey, or by emailing [email protected].

We are undertaking and applying ongoing improvements to UK trade statistics in line with the UK trade development plan and also to address anticipated future demands. We welcome feedback on this development plan.

Trade is measured through both imports and exports of goods and/or services. Data are supplied by over 30 sources including several administrative sources, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) being the largest. The quality of the HMRC source data for trade in goods is high in terms of the timeliness, comprehensiveness and coverage.

For trade in services, data are less timely than trade in goods estimates, sourced mainly from survey data and a variety of administrative sources. The services data are processed quarterly, so monthly forecasts are made to provide a complete trade total. This means latest months are uncertain.

All trade values discussed in the bulletin are in current prices unless otherwise stated. The time series dataset also includes chained volume measures (series for which the effects of inflation have been removed), and these are indexed to form the volume series presented in the publication tables.

Trade statistics for any one month can be erratic. For that reason, we recommend comparing the latest 3 months against the preceding 3 months and the same 3 months of the previous year. However, we also recognise the importance to users of an early estimate of trade; therefore, we continue to produce a monthly estimate.

Oil and other “erratic” commodities can make a large contribution to trade in goods, but often mask the underlying trend in the export or import values due to their volatility. The “erratics” series includes ships, aircraft, precious stones, silver and non-monetary gold. Therefore, we also publish data exclusive of these commodities, which may provide a better guide to the emerging trade picture. We also provide a separate analysis of oil as it is subject to erratic price fluctuations and therefore volume data are provided in metric tonnes as well as value (£ million).

UK trade is part of the short-term economic indicators theme day, alongside the Index of Production (IoP) which also includes the proportion of turnover from exports, by industry. However, this is not always comparable with UK trade statistics, for a number of reasons. These include, but are not limited to:

  • different data sources – IoP is based on a survey of businesses; UK trade in goods uses administrative data collected by HMRC
  • different concepts and measures – IoP reports the value of exports as a proportion of the industry’s turnover; UK trade in goods statistics report the change in ownership between the UK and other countries
  • time lag – there can be time lags between the sale of a product reported in the IoP, and the export of product reported by UK trade

Further information on the IoP and how that index is compiled can be found in the “Things you need to know” section of the IoP release.

This release has a revisions period back to January 2016 for trade in goods and services. This means that we have incorporated additional data for these periods. Revisions can be made for a variety of reasons, the most common include:

  • late responses to surveys and administrative sources, or changes to original returns
  • forecasts being replaced by actual data
  • revisions to seasonal adjustment factors, which are re-estimated every month and reviewed annually

This revisions period is consistent with the National Accounts Revisions Policy.

Due to a series of errors during 2014, the UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade on 14 November 2014. The Authority’s reassessment of UK trade against the Code of Practice for Official Statistics has been completed. We have now responded to all of the specific requirements of the reassessment of UK Trade and are in the final stages of providing evidence to the Authority. We have invested more resource into improving and developing the UK trade statistics, which is supported by the UK Statistics Authority. While developing, and delivering against, our development plan, we will continue to work with the Assessment Team to regain National Statistics status for UK trade statistics.


Source: Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government Licence v.1.0.

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