Trade Profile

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In this page: Foreign Trade in Figures | Trade Compliance | Standards


Foreign Trade in Figures

The United Kingdom is one of the main players in international commerce, with foreign trade representing 69% of its GDP in 2022 (World Bank). The country is the 6th largest importer and 15th exporter of goods in the world, and the second-largest exporter and the largest importer of commercial services (WTO). In 2022, the country mainly exported crude oil, mechanical power generators, medicinal and pharmaceutical products, and cars; whereas imports were led by gas, crude oil, medicinal & pharmaceutical products, refined oil, and mechanical power generators (data ONS).

The EU as a whole is the main trading partner of the United Kingdom: in 2022, it accounted for 41% of UK exports of goods and services and 47% of imports (data House of Commons). At a country level, the UK mainly exports towards the United States (12.1%), the Netherlands (8.3%), Germany (7.8%), China (6.7%), and Switzerland (6.6%); whereas its main suppliers are China (13.4%), the United States (11.9%), Germany (8.6%), Norway (6.5%), and France (4.2% - data Comtrade). In order to diversify its business partners, the UK has 38 active free trade agreements with nations and trade blocs, covering 99 countries and territories. In July 2023, the UK signed an agreement to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – an Asia-Pacific trade bloc of 11 countries.

The country has a structural trade deficit, even though it has a large surplus in the services sector. According to WTO data, in 2022 the United Kingdom imported USD 823.9 billion worth of goods (+18.6% y-o-y) and exported USD 530.2 billion (+12.7% y-o-y); in the same year, exports of services stood at USD 494.4 billion (+8.7% y-o-y), against USD 317 billion in imports (+21.6% y-o-y). The overall trade balance was estimated to be negative by 2.7% of GDP by the World Bank (compared to -0.2% one year earlier). According to preliminary estimates, in the third quarter of 2023, the value of exports from the United Kingdom amounted to over GBP 213.5 billion, while imports to the country reached GBP 218 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of GBP 4.5 billion.

Foreign Trade Values 20192020202120222023
Imports of Goods (million USD) 696,208638,251694,635823,547791,302
Exports of Goods (million USD) 460,026399,529470,508532,982520,691
Imports of Services (million USD) 286,080218,608253,986321,618393,941
Exports of Services (million USD) 429,069398,556473,879506,585584,214

Source: World Trade Organisation (WTO), Latest data available.

Foreign Trade Indicators 20182019202020212022
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP)
Trade Balance (million USD) -191,203-189,482-172,739-232,548-288,479
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) -43,883-46,2078,295-38,564-111,286
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 3.32.6-
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 3.11.7-
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 32.832.928.930.136.2
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 31.231.329.228.832.7

Source: World Bank, Latest data available.

Foreign Trade Forecasts 20232024 (e)2025 (e)2026 (e)2027 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change) -1.4-
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) -1.6-0.7-

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook, Latest data available.

Note: (e) Estimated Data


Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
United States 12.1%
Netherlands 8.3%
Germany 7.7%
China 6.6%
Switzerland 6.6%
See More Countries 58.7%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
China 13.4%
United States 11.9%
Germany 8.6%
Norway 6.5%
France 4.2%
See More Countries 55.2%

Source: UN Comtrade Database, Latest data available.


Main Products

535.1 bn USD of products exported in 2022
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 13.6%
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%
Turbojets, turbopropellers and other gas turbinesTurbojets, turbopropellers and other gas turbines 5.4%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 4.7%
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) 3.9%
See More Products 67.0%
821.6 bn USD of products imported in 2022
Petroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbonsPetroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbons 7.3%
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) 5.4%
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 5.1%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 4.8%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (excl. crude); preparations containing >= 70% by weight of petroleum oils or of oils obtained from bituminous minerals, these oils being the basic constituents of the preparations, n.e.s.; waste oils containing mainly petroleum or bituminous minerals 3.6%
See More Products 73.8%

Source: UN Comtrade Database, Latest data available.


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


Main Services

424.7 bn USD of services exported in 2019
295.1 bn USD of services imported in 2019

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, Latest data available.


Exchange Rate System

Local Currency
British Pound (GBP)
Exchange Rate Regime
Floating exchange regime.
Level of Currency Instability
Very limited exchange risk since the pound sterling is a major currency. However, the 'Brexit' vote provoked a sharp decline in the pound's value, signalling a certain degree of volatility.
Exchange Rate on :

Monetary Indicators 20162017201820192020
British Pound (GBP) - Average Annual Exchange Rate For 1 AED

Source: World Bank, Latest data available.


Find out all the exchange rates daily on our service Currency Converter.

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Trade Compliance

The information in this section is subject to change and regular updating during the UK's post-Brexit transition period. We will publish the updated information as soon as it becomes available.
International Conventions
Member of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
Member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Party to the Kyoto Protocol
Party to the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
Party to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
Party to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer
Party to the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls For Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies
Party to the International Coffee Agreement
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.
Party of the ATA Convention on Temporary Admissions and Use of the Carnets

As a Reminder, the ATA is a System Allowing the Free Movement of Goods Across Frontiers and Their Temporary Admission Into a Customs Territory With Relief From Duties and Taxes. The Goods Are Covered By a Single Document Known as the ATA Carnet That is Secured By an International Guarantee System.
Party of the TIR Convention

As a Reminder, the TIR Convention and its Transit Regime Contribute to the Facilitation of International Transport, Especially International Road Transport, Not Only in Europe and the Middle East, But Also in Other Parts of the World, Such as Africa and Latin America.
Accompanying Documents For Imports
- Bill of Lading
Consular Invoices
Certificates of Origin
Commercial Invoices
Dangerous Goods Certification
Valuation Declaration and General Valuation Statement (GVS)
Further information on the website business link.

To go further, check out our service Shipping documents.

Free-trade zones
With the 2021 Budget, the UK government identified eight sites as post-Brexit freeports to boost trade, investment, innovation and economic recovery. The eight sites are: East Midlands AirportFelixstowe and Harwich, Humber region, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames, and Teesside.
In order to make use of a UK Free Zone, an authorisation for a so-called "Freeport customs special procedure" is required.
For Further Information
Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs
The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)
Non Tariff Barriers

Several goods are subject to specific controls and requirements. Goods subject to import controls under the Open General Import Licence (OGIL) include firearms, anti-personnel mines, and certain nuclear and chemical goods. Some industrial goods need import licences as a result of controls imposed at national or UN level, which are issued by the Department for International Trade’s Import Licensing Branch(firearms, goods subject to import sanctions, etc.). The ILB also issues Certificates of Free Sale (CFS) to UK exporters, mostly for products that come into contact with humans (e.g. cosmetics), from countries that have lower product safety standards and enforcement than the UK. Other government departments issue CFS for certain products including the:

  • Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs for goods that come into contact with animals (such as veterinary medicines)
  • Department of Health for medicines
  • Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for medical devices
  • Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for biocides
  • Rural Payments Agency (RPA) for food, drinks or supplements.


Consult the dedicated page on the UK government’s platform to check whether goods need to be declared to UK customs. For a list of goods subject to import controls, click here.


Furthermore, from 1 January 2021 Brexit became effective and therefore trade relations between the EU and the UK are governed from now on by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. To preserve their mutually beneficial trading relationship, the EU and the UK have agreed to create an ambitious free trade area with no tariffs or quotas on products, regulatory and customs cooperation mechanisms, as well as provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition, as part of a larger economic partnership. The Agreement prevents unnecessary technical barriers to trade, e.g. by providing for self-declaration of regulatory compliance for low-risk products and facilitations for other specific products of mutual interest, such as automotive, wine, organics, pharmaceuticals and chemicals. However, all UK goods entering the EU will still have to meet the EU’s high regulatory standards, including on food safety (e.g. sanitary and phytosanitary standards) and product safety. FTA conditions are not the same as those of the EU Customs Union and the Single Market. In particular:

  • Rules of origin will apply to goods in order to qualify for preferential trade terms under the agreement;
  • The Agreement includes a Technical Barriers to Trade Chapter which builds on the WTO TBT agreement and addresses regulatory barriers to trade between the UK and EU (provisions on technical regulation, conformity assessment, standardisation, accreditation, market surveillance and marking and labelling);
  • The Agreement includes a Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Chapter which ensures that the UK and the EU can maintain fully independent SPS rules to protect human, animal and plant life and health, preserving each Party’s right to independently regulate, while not creating unjustified barriers to trade.

For the list of goods imported into Great Britain from the EU that are subject to customs controls, click here.

Sectors or Products For Which Commercial Disagreements Have Been Registered With the WTO
The United States have registered a complaint against the United Kingdom regarding the Customs classification of certain computer equipment. Further information on WIPO website.
Assessment of Commercial Policy
UK's commercial policy, as seen by the WTO
Contact the Chamber of Commerce
Contact the British Chamber of Commerce in the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE Chambers of Commerce
Contact the UAE Chamber of Commerce in the United Kingdom.
Contact the UAE Chambers.
Contact Dubai Chamber.
Contact Abu Dhabi Chamber.

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The information in this section is subject to change and regular updating during the UK's post-Brexit transition period. We will publish the updated information as soon as it becomes available.
National Standards Organisations
BSI Group, British Standards Institution
Integration in the International Standards Network
The UK is a member of the International Organisation for Standardisation and a full member of the International Electrotechnical Commission. It is also a member state of the International Telecommunication Union.
All EU standards remain in place until 31 December 2020, the date by which ends the transition period for the negotiation of a possible new trade arrangement between the UK and the EU. For the detail on possible future changes regarding certificates, authorisations, markings or labelling which take effect from 1 January 2021 following the UK's withdrawal from the EU and the end of the transition period please consult the European Commission's ‘BREXIT READINESS CHECKLIST’ FOR COMPANIES DOING BUSINESS WITH THE UK.
The UK continues therefore to be a member of the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC), European Telcommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), European Committee for Standardisation (ECS), until the 31 December 2020, and remains to be seen whether the country continues its membership beyond that date.
Obligation to Use Standards
Most standards are voluntary although they can be made mandatory by law or regulation. Products are subject to the European Union's legislation (General product safety Directive, technical legislation) as well as to the national UK legislation.
Classification of Standards
There are over 27,000 British Standards in use and 2,000 are produced annually. CE is the European certification mark. It is compulsory for a country to be able to sell on the market. (Subject to change following the UK's withdrawal from the EU on the 31 December 2020).
Assessment of the System of Standardization
By complying with British Standards, suppliers demonstrate that their products or services are safe and fit for purpose. Customers look for the independent verification that technical standards provide. Certification marks earned by businesses whose products and practices consistently stand up to rigorous examination are instantly recognizable and act as respected badges of quality, safety and performance.
Online Consultation of Standards
The BSI Shop offers a full catalogue of standards and publications, many of which are available as PDF downloads; on-line catalog of European Standards; ISO catalog; IEC catalog.
Certification Organisations
The United Kingdom Accreditation Service. Follow this link for a list of accreditation standards
Associations of Standards Users
BSS is the UK member of the International Federation of Standard Users (IFAN).

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Latest Update: April 2024