April trade figures verified

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June 18, 2021

What was claimed

The trade deficit with the EU narrowed from 4.4 billion pounds to 3.2 billion pounds.

Our verdict

The trade deficit with the whole world, and not just with the EU, fell to £ 3.2 billion in the three months to April 2021.

What was claimed

UK exports are up while EU imports are down.

Our verdict

This is correct for the goods. Data on services for April 2021 is not yet available.

What was claimed

UK companies have sold £ 12.9 billion worth of goods to the EU, 10% more than pre-Brexit figures.

Our verdict

£ 12.9bn is correct, but the request for the 10% increase is for summer 2020 and does not reflect the broader trend. Exports to the EU are down compared to the pre-Brexit period.

What was claimed

Imports from the rest of the world reached £ 20.1 billion, their highest level since the record began in 1997.

Our verdict

£ 20.1 billion is the highest cash amount of imports from the rest of the world in any given month, but imports were higher than that, when adjusted for inflation, for a much of the late 2010s.

What was claimed

We sell more to our global partners – £ 13.6 billion – than to the EU.

Our verdict

It is correct that in April 2021 the UK exported more goods to non-EU countries (£ 13.6 billion) than to EU countries (£ 12.9 billion). pound sterling).

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1 of 5 complaints

A column in the Daily Express makes a number of claims about the latest trade data released by the Office for National Statistics.

Some of the statements could use more context.

“The trade deficit with the EU has narrowed from £ 4.4bn to £ 3.2bn, showing UK exports up while EU imports are down . “

Express numbers refer to the UK trade deficit (how much more do we import than export), excluding precious metals, with the whole world in the three months to April 2021, not just the trade deficit with the EU.

These data include both trade in goods and services.

For April 2021, data on trade with the EU in particular is only available for goods and not for services, so we do not yet know the total EU trade deficit for April.

However, for goods only (excluding precious metals), it is correct that EU exports increased and EU imports decreased in the three months to April 2021, compared to the three months to January 2021.

“In total, UK companies sold £ 12.9 billion worth of goods to the EU, 10% more than pre-Brexit figures, according to the Office for National Statistics.”

It is correct that Britain’s exports to the EU, excluding precious metals, have been valued at £ 12.9 billion in April 2021.

As for the claim that exports rose 10% from pre-Brexit figures, the Express confirmed to Full Fact that it came from a Daily Telegraph article that examined the change from the period “before pre-Brexit storage began to skew the numbers late last year.

This refers to the stockpiling that took place before the end of the transition period in particular rather than any other part of the Brexit process.

Exports increased ten% between July 2020 and April 2021, but, as the ONS Remarks, trading volumes are incredibly volatile right now and these numbers don’t fully represent the big picture.

Exports fell considerably in the spring of 2020, the the pandemic has taken hold, before rebounding in the second half of the year, in part influenced by storage mentionned. They then fell again in January 2021, in part due to disturbance associated with the end of the transition period, before rebounding again.

In addition, exports in April 2021 are down compared to the period before the start of the pandemic and the period before Brexit actually in January 2020.

All but a month, from January 2017 to the start of the pandemic, saw the UK export more goods to the EU than in April 2021.

“In contrast, imports from the rest of the world are replacing imports from the EU, reaching £ 20.1 billion, their highest level since the record started in 1997. At the same time, we are selling more to our global partners – £ 13.6 billion – than to the EU. “

It is true that the UK is export more goods to countries outside the EU (£ 13.6 billion excluding precious metals) than EU countries (£ 12.9 billion).

It is also correct that the UK imported £ 20.1 billion of goods (excluding precious metals) from non-EU countries in April, which was technically the highest level recorded.

But these numbers represent monetary values, and the value of money has declined over time (inflation). Non-EU imports were higher during the peak periods of the late 2010s, a adjusted for inflation.

The long view

Business data can vary significantly from month to month and, as we said, particularly volatile taking into account the effects of the pandemic and the end of the transition period.

Therefore, it is worth looking at longer trends in business data as well as month-to-month changes.

Since the mid-2010s, the United Kingdom trade balance (exports minus imports) of combined goods and services increased, the balance even turning positive for a few months, which means that we exported more than we imported.

There have been large fluctuations in recent quarters, but overall it appears that exports are catching up with imports.

Thinking back to trade with the EU in particular, the balance is negative (we import more than we export) and bottomed out in 2019 after many years of decline, but increased in 2020. The UK is a net importer of goods of the EU but a net exporter of services.

Over the past decade, merchandise exports to countries outside the EU globally increased more than exports to EU countries.

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