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 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 20212022 (e)2023 (e)2024 (e)2025 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change) 0.48.73.82.92.5
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) 1.69.83.62.72.4

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook ; Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

 

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, last available data

 

Main Products

395.7 bn USD of products exported in 2020
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) 6.7%
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 5.4%
Turbo-jets, turbo-propellers and other gas...Turbo-jets, turbo-propellers and other gas turbines 5.1%
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) 4.7%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 4.1%
See More Products 74.1%
634.2 bn USD of products imported in 2020
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 13.9%
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%
Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line...Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line telegraphy, incl. line telephone sets with cordless handsets and telecommunication apparatus for carrier-current line systems or for digital line systems; videophones; parts thereof 3.0%
Automatic data processing machines and units...Automatic data processing machines and units thereof; magnetic or optical readers, machines for transcribing data onto data media in coded form and machines for processing such data, n.e.s. 2.6%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 2.5%
See More Products 72.6%

Source: Comtrade, last available data

 
 

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, Latest Available Data

 

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 0.200.210.200.220.21

Source: World Bank - Latest available data.

 
 

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 World Trade Organisation
Member of 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 of the International Coffee Agreement 2007
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
Yes

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
Yes

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
-
C3
-
C2
-
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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Standards

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: September 2022