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In 2017 the UK ran a trade deficit in goods of £137 billion, partially offset by a surplus in services of £112 billion. Considering trade by country or region, the US was the UK’s single largest partner country. However, the EU as a bloc was bigger, accounting for 53 percent of imports and 44 percent of exports.

Looking at trends in trade balances over time, since 1998 the trade deficit in goods has increased nearly ninefold, largely due to an increasing deficit with EU countries. Over a similar period, the trade surplus on services has increased more than eightfold, in this case largely because of an increasing surplus with countries outside the EU.

Turning to country-by-commodity data, the briefing illustrates trends relating to motor cars, chemicals/pharmaceuticals and cereals. Considering cars, the most noticeable trend is the emergence of the Chinese market, which was insignificant as a destination for UK exports in 1996 but now ranks as second only to the US. Within chemicals/pharmaceuticals, overall trade has increased much faster than inflation, but with some individual countries showing quite different trends. Looking at cereals, the EU is the destination for a large (and rising) majority of exports and is also the source of a (decreasing) majority of imports. 

Finally, turning to services, financial services is the largest specific category of exports, while travel is the largest category of imports. Within financial services, the USA is the UK’s largest trading partner, taking more than double the share of imports and exports as any other country.


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