Technically named the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the UK shipped US$469.2 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 0.6% increase since 2015 but a -3.7% decline from one year earlier in 2018.
UK’s exported goods totaled $287.4 billion during the first 9 months of 2020. Assuming an annualized $383.2 billion in exports for all 2020, Great Britain is on track for an estimated -18.2% drop in value for its shipments from 2019 to 2020.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the British pound depreciated by -19.7% against the US dollar since 2015 and declined by -4.5% from 2018 to 2019. The UK’s weaker local currency make British exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 67.9% of products exported from UK were bought by importers in: the United States (15.5% of the global total), Germany (9.9%), France (6.7%), Netherlands (6.5%), China (6.4%), Ireland (5.9%), Belgium (3.6%), Switzerland (3.3%), Spain (2.9%), Italy (2.7%), Hong Kong (2.4%) and the United Arab Emirates (2.1%).
From a continental perspective, over half of the United Kingdom exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 23.2% were sold to Asian importers. The UK shipped another 17.3% worth of goods to North American importers. Smaller percentages went to Africa (2.3%), Oceania (1.4%) led by Australia and New Zealand, then Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.3%).
Given United Kingdom’s population of 66.9 million people, its total $469.2 billion in 2019 exported products translates to roughly $7,000 for every resident in the western European economic powerhouse.
United Kingdom’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in UK global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Great Britain.
- Machinery including computers: US$73.3 billion (15.6% of total exports)
- Vehicles: $50.7 billion (10.8%)
- Gems, precious metals: $42.4 billion (9%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $41.4 billion (8.8%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $28.5 billion (6.1%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $27 billion (5.8%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $19.9 billion (4.3%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $18.3 billion (3.9%)
- Organic chemicals: $12.7 billion (2.7%)
- Collector items, art, antiques: $12.3 billion (2.6%)
The United Kingdom’s top 10 exports accounted for over two-thirds (69.6%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Collector items, art and antiques represents the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 72% since 2018. In second place for improving export sales were organic chemicals via a 12.1% increase. British shipments of optical, technical and medical apparatus posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 4.6% year over year.
The leading decliner among United Kingdom’s top 10 export categories was gems and precious metals thanks to a -10.5% drop. That category was weighed down by declining international sales of gold and diamonds from the UK.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of UK’s Most Valuable Export Products further down near the bottom of this article.
The following types of UK product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Collector items, art, antiques: US$9.2 billion (Up by 137.2% since 2018)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $7.6 billion (Down by -4%)
- Organic chemicals: $2.5 billion (Up by 279%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $1.7 billion (Down by -22.6%)
- Books, newspapers, pictures: $1.2 billion (Down by -8.9%)
- Ships, boats: $1.2 billion (Up by 2536.3%)
- Tanning, dyes, paints, varnishes, ink: $966.4 million (Up by 21.9%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $831.2 million (Up by 120.4%)
- Other chemical goods: $663.6 million (Down by -24.7%)
- Iron, steel: $318.7 million (Down by -58.2%)
United Kingdom has highly positive net exports in the international trade of collector items, art and antiques. In turn, these cashflows indicate United Kingdom’s strong competitive advantages under that product category.
Overall the United Kingdom incurred a -$220.4 billion trade deficit during 2019, up 20.7% from -$182.6 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from United Kingdom that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country United Kingdom’s goods trail UK importer spending on foreign products.
- Gems, precious metals: -US$45.8 billion (Reversing a -$7.3 billion deficit in 2018)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$35.4 billion (Up by 2% since 2018)
- Vehicles: -$22.8 billion (Up by 13%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$14.8 billion (Down by -36.1%)
- Machinery including computers: -$11.4 billion (Down by -16.5%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$7.7 billion (Down by -15.1%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefab buildings: -$7.6 billion (Down by -1.8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$7 billion (Down by -1.4%)
- Wood: -$6.8 billion (Down by -2.8%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$6.6 billion (Down by -10.3%)
Notably, the United Kingdom has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits notably caused by UK’s spending on imported gold and silver under the gems and precious metals category.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate United Kingdom’s competitive disadvantages in the international elect`ronics market, but also represent key opportunities for United Kingdom to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
UK Export Companies
Here are UK export companies ranking among the largest international trade players for the United Kingdom:
- Anglo American PLC (diversified metals, mining)
- AstraZeneca (pharmaceuticals)
- BP (oil, gas)
- British American Tobacco (tobacco)
- GlaxoSmithKline (pharmaceuticals)
- Johnson Matthey (chemicals)
- Mondi Group (paper, paper products)
- Rio Tinto Group (diversified metals, mining)
- SABMiller (beverages)
- Smith & Nephew (medical equipment, supplies)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are also examples of UK exporters.
- Allied Pickfords UK (forage products, corn, t-shirts)
- Cadbury UK (chocolate bars, other chocolate preparations)
- GKN Timet UK (titanium)
- Optivite International (formic acid, proprionic acid, animal feeds not for dog or cat)
- Rothenberger UK (pipe/bolt cutters, propylene, miscellaneous tubes/pipes/hoses)
Searchable List of UK’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, the following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from the United Kingdom during 2019. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2018.
|Rank||UK Export Product||2019 Value (US$)||Change|
|5||Medication mixes in dosage||$17,967,674,000||-4.9%|
|7||Processed petroleum oils||$11,850,592,000||-13.4%|
|8||Hand-drawn paintings, drawings||$8,852,573,000||+88%|
|9||Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs)||$7,837,981,000||-1.4%|
|10||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$7,256,509,000||-17.3%|
|14||Phone system devices including smartphones||$5,056,609,000||+2.5%|
|15||Computers, optical readers||$4,778,547,000||+10.5%|
|17||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$4,013,940,000||+68.8%|
|18||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$3,173,791,000||+5.9%|
|19||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$3,006,749,000||-2.1%|
|21||Iron or steel scrap||$2,583,530,000||-18.1%|
|22||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$2,581,438,000||+4.4%|
|23||Printed books, brochures||$2,544,518,000||-4.7%|
|24||Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers)||$2,416,278,000||-2.5%|
|25||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$2,360,001,000||+1.6%|
|26||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$2,222,922,000||+0.7%|
|27||Liquid pumps and elevators||$2,178,205,000||+1.2%|
|28||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$2,113,344,000||-1%|
|29||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$2,018,897,000||+12.4%|
|30||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$1,960,408,000||+4.9%|
|32||Yachts, other pleasure/sports vessels||$1,839,240,000||+64.4%|
|38||Other food preparations||$1,735,841,000||+1.8%|
|39||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$1,640,472,000||+4%|
|41||Piston engine parts||$1,636,026,000||-14%|
|44||Air or vacuum pumps||$1,582,293,000||+1.4%|
|47||Other measuring/testing machines||$1,511,536,000||-9.9%|
|49||Miscellaneous plastic items||$1,454,855,000||-7.7%|
|50||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$1,454,601,000||-7.6%|
|51||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$1,421,383,000||+5.3%|
|53||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$1,382,565,000||+2.1%|
|56||Precious metal waste, scrap||$1,362,410,000||+33.6%|
|57||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$1,332,567,000||-5.9%|
|58||Liquid/gas checking instruments||$1,299,023,000||-4.1%|
|60||Antiques (over 100 years old)||$1,290,193,000||+31.3%|
|62||Hormones, miscellaneous steroids||$1,258,887,000||+54.7%|
|63||Unrecorded sound media||$1,244,890,000||-23.1%|
|64||Electrical converters/power units||$1,226,253,000||-8.8%|
|66||Other organic cleaning preparations||$1,187,033,000||-8.1%|
|68||Optical fiber cables, sheets, plates||$1,181,319,000||-9.1%|
|69||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$1,181,292,000||-4%|
|70||Chemical industry products/residuals||$1,170,450,000||-9.2%|
|72||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$1,136,701,000||-10.5%|
|73||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$1,092,795,000||-2.2%|
|75||Whole fish (fresh)||$1,064,990,000||+11.2%|
|76||Computer parts, accessories||$1,051,906,000||-29.8%|
|77||Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation)||$1,026,309,000||+10.4%|
|78||Copper waste, scrap||$1,005,729,000||-0.6%|
|80||Navigational aids, compasses||$995,089,000||+5.9%|
|81||Cases, handbags, wallets||$993,099,000||-0.9%|
|82||Radar, radio communication items||$991,961,000||+76%|
|83||Oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers||$978,664,000||+4.6%|
|84||Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)||$951,839,000||-1.4%|
|85||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$947,374,000||-1.7%|
|86||Personal toilet/shaving preparations, deodorants||$941,363,000||-4.8%|
|87||Miscellaneous engines, motors||$936,435,000||+17.7%|
|89||Electric generating sets, converters||$899,786,000||-15.9%|
|91||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$887,025,000||-3.3%|
|93||Scents used for beverage or industrial manufacturing||$875,295,000||-9.2%|
|95||Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys||$846,136,000||-8.4%|
|96||Electric motors, generators||$846,024,000||-10.6%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$335.7 billion or 71.5% by value for all products exported from the UK during 2019.
In macroeconomic terms, the United Kingdom’s total exported goods represent 15% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($3.131 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 15% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2019 compares to 16% one year earlier. This seems to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for the UK’s total economic performance.
Another key indicator of a geographical entity’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Britain’s average unemployment rate was 4.8% in September 2020, up from 3.814% for 2019 according to the International Monetary Fund.
See also United Kingdom’s Top 10 Imports, United Kingdom’s Top Trading Partners, UK’s Major EU Exports, United Kingdom’s Top 10 Major Export Companies and United Kingdom’s Exported Services
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International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on November 14, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on November 14, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on November 14, 2020
Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on November 14, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on November 14, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies based in London. Accessed on November 14, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on November 14, 2020
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on November 14, 2020