The United Kingdom shipped US$408. billion worth of products around the globe in 2016. That figure represents roughly 2.5% of overall global exports estimated at $16.236 trillion for the prior year 2015.
From a continental perspective in 2016, 54.3% of UK exports by value are delivered to other European trade partners while 21.2% are sold to Asian importers. United Kingdom ships another 16.7% to North America and just 2.8% to Africa.
United Kingdom’s Top Trading Partners
Below is a list showcasing 15 of United Kingdom’s top trading partners in terms of export sales. That is, these are countries that imported the most UK shipments by dollar value during 2016. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total UK exports.
- United States: US$60.4 billion (14.8% of total UK exports)
- Germany: $43.6 billion (10.7%)
- France: $25.9 billion (6.3%)
- Netherlands: $25.6 billion (6.3%)
- Ireland: $22.9 billion (5.6%)
- Switzerland: $18.9 billion (4.6%)
- China: $18 billion (4.4%)
- Belgium: $15.8 billion (3.9%)
- Italy: $13.1 billion (3.2%)
- Spain: $12.7 billion (3.1%)
- United Arab Emirates: $9 billion (2.2%)
- Hong Kong: $8.8 billion (2.2%)
- Japan: $6.4 billion (1.6%)
- Canada: $6.2 billion (1.5%)
- Sweden: $6.1 billion (1.5%)
Approaching three-quarters (71.7%) of UK exports in 2016 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.
Among these top trade partners, UK exports to Switzerland rose in value at the fastest pace from 2009 to 2016 via a 137.8% gain.
In second place were Chinese importers, which grew their import purchases from the UK by 123%.
Hong Kong boosted its UK imports by 58.3%.
UAE’s imports from the UK increased by 42.6% over the 7-year period.
UK exports to Spain (down -11.1%) and France (down -10.7%) diminished at the fastest rate.
As defined by Investopedia, a country whose total value of all imported goods is higher than its value of all exports is said to have a negative trade balance or deficit.
It would be unrealistic for any exporting nation to expect across-the-board positive trade balances with all its importing partners. Similarly, that export country doesn’t necessarily post a negative trade balance with each individual partner with which it exchanges exports and imports. Overall, the UK incurred a -$227.2 billion deficit during 2016 up by 18.1% from -$192.4 in 2009 when the Global Recession first clicked in.
In 2016, United Kingdom incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries:
- Germany: -US$42.7 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2016)
- China: -$40.9 billion
- Netherlands: -$20.8 billion
- Belgium: -$15.8 billion
- Norway: -$13.2 billion
- Italy: -$10.2 billion
- Switzerland: -$9.7 billion
- Spain: -$9 billion
- Canada: -$7.4 billion
- France: -$7.3 billion
Among United Kingdom’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, UK deficits with Spain (up 1,693%), Netherlands (up 162.6%) and Belgium (up 124.5%) grew at the fastest pace from 2009 to 2016.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate United Kingdom’s competitive disadvantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for United Kingdom to develop country-specific strategies to strengthen its overall position in international trade.
Based on Investopedia’s definition of net importer, a country whose total value of all imported goods is lower than its value of all exports is said to have a positive trade balance or surplus.
In 2016, United Kingdom incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries:
- United Arab Emirates: US$7.4 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2016)
- Ireland: $5.3 billion
- Saudi Arabia: $4.2 billion
- Singapore: $3.8 billion
- United States: $1.3 billion
- Hong Kong: $1.1 billion
- Macedonia: $832.3 million
- Egypt: $780.3 million
- Qatar: $688.9 million
- Oman: $539.3 million
Among United Kingdom’s trading partners that cause the greatest positive trade balances, UK surpluses with Macedonia (up 14,534%), Singapore (up 609.5%) and Qatar (up 574.5%) grew at the fastest pace from 2009 to 2016.
These positive cashflow streams clearly indicate United Kingdom’s competitive advantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for United Kingdom to develop country-specific strategies to optimize its overall position in international trade.
Companies Servicing UK Trading Partners
Ninety-one UK corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000 for 2015. Below is a sample of the major companies headquartered in the UK that Forbes listed:
- BP (oil, gas)
- Rio Tinto (diversified metals, mining)
- GlaxoSmithKline (pharmaceuticals)
- British American Tobacco (tobacco)
- AstraZeneca (pharmaceuticals)
- BG Group (oil, gas)
- SABMiller (beverages)
- Diageo (beverages)
- Rolls-Royce Holdings (aerospace & defense)
- Imperial Tobacco Group (tobacco)
- Associated British Foods (food processing)
- Anglo American (diversified metals, mining)
According to the UK Export Directory, the following are examples of established companies that ship products from the United Kingdom to its trading partners around the globe. Shown within parenthesis is the product category that the UK-based business specializes in.
- Antech UK Hydraulics (hydraulic motors, other machinery)
- Knight Plastics Ltd (plastic injection mouldings)
- Absolute Battery (UK) Ltd (power supplies, batteries)
- Advanced Technology Laboratories (UK) Ltd (electronics)
- Global Communications UK Ltd (broadcast equipment, satellites)
- Nippon Oil Exploration UK Ltd (oil, gas)
- Trumpler UK Ltd (chemicals)
- Gold Major Group (jewelry)
- Johnson Pump (UK) Limited (rotary lobe pumps)
- Diamond Offshore (UK) Ltd (drilling equipment)
See also United Kingdom’s Top 10 Imports, Highest Value UK Import Products, Highest Value UK Export Products and UK Major Trade Balances with America
The World Factbook, Field Listing: Imports – Commodities, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 18, 2017
Trade Map, International Trade Centre, www.intracen.org/marketanalysis. Accessed on February 18, 2017
Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on February 18, 2017
Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 23, 2016
UK Export Directory, Import/Export Catalog for Sourcing from the United Kingdom. Accessed on November 2, 2015