United Kingdom: Economic and Political Overview

United Kingdom flag United Kingdom: Economic and Political Overview

Economic and Political Overview

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 available data

Foreign Trade Indicators 20182019202020212022
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 64.064.158.158.968.9
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) 3.32.6-16.06.213.3
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 3.11.7-12.12.29.9
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 available data

Foreign Trade Forecasts 20232024 (e)2025 (e)2026 (e)2027 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change) -1.4-1.20.71.41.9
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) -1.6-0.7-0.20.81.5

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook ; Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

 
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.
 

Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
2022
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)
2022
China 13.4%
United States 11.9%
Germany 8.6%
Norway 6.5%
France 4.2%
See More Countries 55.2%

Source: Comtrade, 2023. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 
 

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: Comtrade, 2023. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 
 

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

 

Main Services

424.7 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%
295.1 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, 2024. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

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Latest Update: April 2024

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