Gold, mobile phones and computers were major factors behind the United Kingdom’s highest trade deficits by product. Germany and China placed first and second respectively among trade partners with which United Kingdom endured the highest negative trade balances.
The United Kingdom’s overall trade deficit incorporating all products and countries equaled -US$220.4 billion in 2019, up by 6% from a -$207.9 billion deficit in 2012 after the global recession began gaining traction. Year over year, the -$220.4 billion in red ink for 2019 represents a 20.7% expansion from the -$182.6 billion deficit that the United Kingdom incurred during 2018.
To put the United Kingdom’s trade deficit metric into perspective, the UK’s total external debt encompassing both public and private red ink equaled -$8.379 trillion at March 2019. UK’s external debt is the equivalent of almost 40 times its negative international trade balance for 2019.
Top UK Trade Balances by Product and Country
The following 10 leading products generated a surplus subtotal of $43.8 billion for Britain in its global trade during 2019. Metrics listed below highlight the United Kingdom’s strongest competitive advantages over worldwide trading partners in terms of commodities.
- Aircraft parts: US$10.7 billion (No 2012 data)
- Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs): $6.9 billion (Down -8.8% since 2012)
- Hand-drawn paintings, drawings: $6,810,036,000 (Reversing a -$643.8 million deficit in 2012)
- Turbo-jets: $5.7 billion (Up 11.4%)
- Medication mixes in dosage: $3.4 billion (Down -49.6%)
- Engines (diesel): $3.1 billion (Up 187%)
- Iron or steel scrap: $2.5 billion (Down -21.2%)
- Jewelry: $2.1 billion (Up 60%)
- Yachts, other pleasure/sports vessels: $1.6 billion (Up 112.7%)
- Piston engines: $1.3 billion (Up 10.5%)
Leading percentage increases for the United Kingdom’s product surpluses from 2012 to 2019 were diesel engines (up 187%), yachts and similar water vessels (up 112.7%) then jewelry (up 60%).
The severest percentage decline belongs to medication mixes in dosage (down -49.6%).
The 10 major products below accumulated a deficit subtotal of -$111.9 billion for the United Kingdom in international trade during 2019. Britain exhibited the severest competitive disadvantages in terms of red ink from exporting and importing the following goods.
- Gold (unwrought): -US$46.5 billion (Up 1,334% since 2012)
- Phone system devices including smartphones: -$14.6 billion (Up 40.9%)
- Computers, optical readers: -$9.9 billion (Down -4.8%)
- Automobile parts/accessories: -$9.2 billion (Up 13.8%)
- Bituminous refined petroleum oils -$7.8 billion (Up 4,073%)
- Trucks: -$7 billion (Up 207.5%)
- Petroleum gases -$5.8 billion (Down -11.6%)
- Cars -$3.8 billion (Up 631.9%)
- Mixed component medications -$3.7 billion (Reversing a $521.9 million surplus in 2012)
- Monitors, projectors -$3.66 billion (Down -4.5%)
Since 2012, the United Kingdom’s red ink in global trade expanded at the fastest percentage pace for bituminous refined petroleum oils (up 4,073%), gold (up 1,334%), cars (up 631.9%) and trucks (up 207.5%).
UK product-specific deficits were whittled down at the slowest rates for petroleum gases (down -11.6%) and computers including optical readers (down -4.8%).
In 2019, Britain generated a robust surplus subtotal worth $39.8 billion with the following 10 trading partners.
- Ireland: US$10.3 billion (Up 70% since 2012)
- United Arab Emirates: $7.8 billion (Up 19.2%)
- Hong Kong: $6.4 billion (Up 24.1%)
- Singapore: $4.2 billion (Up 71.1%)
- United States: $3.2 billion (Up 12.7%)
- Azerbaijan: $2.3 billion (Reversing a -$87.2 million deficit in 2012)
- Malta: $1.7 billion (Up 325.2%)
- North Macedonia: $1.39 billion (Up 193.8%)
- Saudi Arabia: $1.37 billion (Down -56.8%)
- Qatar: $1.1 (Reversing a -$2.3 billion deficit in 2012)
The greatest percentage increases in per-country surpluses since 2012 came from UK trade with Malta (up 325.2%), North Macedonia (up 193.3%) then Singapore (up 71.1%).
There was one percentage decline over the 7-year period namely UK trade with Saudi Arabia (down -56.8%).
During 2019, the United Kingdom experienced a deficit with more than 90 of its 220-plus trading partners. The following 10 trade partners created a -$176.5 billion deficit subtotal from exchanging exports and imports.
- Germany: -US$37.7 billion (Up 21.4% since 2012)
- China: -$34.8 billion (Down -14.2%)
- Netherlands: -$23.6 billion (Up 138.6%)
- Belgium: -$15.3 billion (Up 131.5%)
- Norway: -$15.2 billion (Down -44.4%)
- Italy: -$12.7 billion (Up 27.1%)
- Russia: -$10.9 billion (Up 72%)
- Switzerland: -$9.5 billion (Down -16.3%)
- Canada: -$9.4 billion (Down -15.7%)
- Spain: -$7.4 billion (Up 63.1%)
The United Kingdom’s county-specific trade deficits in 2019 compared to 2012 grew at the fastest pace with the Netherlands (up 138.6%), Belgium (up 131.5%) and Russia (up 72%).
Britain trimmed the size of its negative trade balances the most with Norway (down -44.4%), Switzerland (down -16.3%) and Canada (down -15.7%).
See also United Kingdom’s Top 10 Exports, United Kingdom’s Top 10 Imports, United Kingdom’s Top Trading Partners and UK’s Major EU Exports
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 18, 2020
External Debt (for specified countries), CEIC Data. Accessed on February 18, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 18, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on February 18, 2020
Wikipedia, Economy of United Kingdom. Accessed on February 18, 2020