Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the British pound depreciated by -5.3% against the US dollar since 2016 but increased by 0.4% from 2019 to 2020. The UK’s stronger local currency in 2020 make its imports paid for in slightly weaker US dollars relatively less expensive when converted starting from the British pound.
UK’s imports represent 3.3% of total global imports which totaled an estimated $19.085 trillion one year earlier during 2019.
From a continental perspective, over half (53.7%) of United Kingdom’s total imports by value in 2020 were purchased from fellow European countries (compared to 47.2% from European Union members). Asian trade partners supplied 26.1% of import purchases by the United Kingdom while 12.1% originated from North America. Smaller percentages came from Africa (2.1%), Oceania (1.8%) led by Australia and New Zealand then Latin America (1.2%) including the Caribbean but excluding Mexico.
Given the United Kingdom’s population of 67.3 million people, its total $631.9 billion in 2020 imports translates to roughly $9,400 in yearly product demand from every person living in the United Kingdom.
United Kingdom’s Top 10 Imports
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in the United Kingdom’s import purchases during 2020 at the two-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into the United Kingdom.
- Gems, precious metals: US$108.4 billion (17.2% of total imports)
- Machinery including computers: $70.2 billion (11.1%)
- Vehicles: $58 billion (9.2%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $55.8 billion (8.8%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $34 billion (5.4%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $25.9 billion (4.1%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $18.9 billion (3%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $18.1 billion (2.9%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $11.8 billion (1.9%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $11.1 billion (1.7%)
The United Kingdom’s top 10 imports accounted for roughly two-thirds (65.2%) of the overall value of its product purchases from all countries.
The gems and precious metals category posted the sole increase from 2019 to 2020, up by 21.6% notably for gold and platinum.
Leading the decliners was the mineral fuels including oil category via its -39.7% decline year over year. Other major imports that declined greatly year over year were UK imports of vehicles (down -22.5%) and machinery including computers (down -16.6%).
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more detailed view of imported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the adjacent virtual folder tabs.
UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of precious metals and gems during 2020.
- Gold (unwrought): US$21 billion (down -9.8% from 2019)
- Platinum (unwrought): $11.6 billion (up 69.8%)
- Silver (unwrought): $3.7 billion (up 213.5%)
- Jewelry: $3.4 billion (down -48.6%)
- Precious metal waste, scrap: $2.1 billion (up 49.6%)
- Diamonds (unmounted/unset): $806.4 million (down -58.3%)
- Other precious metal items: $168.7 million (up 16.8%)
- Imitation jewelry: $129 million (down -18%)
- Precious/semi-precious stones (unstrung): $128.6 million (down -52.1%)
- Goldsmith/silversmith wares: $50.7 million (up 65.9%)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of silver (up 213.5%), platinum (up 69.8%) then goldsmith or silversmith wares (up 65.9%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported precious metals and gems among UK businesses and consumers.
In 2020, UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery including computers.
- Computers, optical readers: US$16.1 billion (up 9.4% from 2019)
- Turbo-jets: $13.9 billion (down -33.1%)
- Piston engine parts: $2.9 billion (down -27.6%)
- Taps, valves, similar appliances: $2.8 billion (down -17.8%)
- Printing machinery: $2.3 billion (down -19.3%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $2.1 billion (down -6.1%)
- Computer parts, accessories: $2 billion (down -11%)
- Liquid pumps and elevators: $2 billion (down -17.8%)
- Air or vacuum pumps: $1.8 billion (down -18.2%)
- Refrigerators, freezers: $1.8 billion (up 1.4%)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of computers including optical readers (up 9.4%) as well as refrigerators and freezers (up 1.4%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported machinery among UK businesses and consumers.
In 2020, UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of vehicles.
- Cars: US$34.8 billion (down -20.5% from 2019)
- Automobile parts/accessories: $11.5 billion (down -27.4%)
- Trucks: $5.9 billion (down -33.3%)
- Tractors: $1.8 billion (up 13.8%)
- Trailers: $780.4 million (down -16%)
- Motorcycles: $771.7 million (down -2.1%)
- Automobile bodies: $594.9 million (down -22.5%)
- Bicycles, other non-motorized cycles: $526.1 million (up 6.3%)
- Motorcycle parts/accessories: $502.5 million (down -8.3%)
- Public-transport vehicles: $185.3 million (down -48.8%)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of tractors (up 13.8%) and bicycles including other non-motorized cycles (up 6.3%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported vehicles among UK businesses and consumers.
In 2020, UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electrical goods including consumer electronics.
- Phone system devices including smartphones: US$19.1 billion (down -4.2% from 2019)
- TV receivers/monitors/projectors: $4.3 billion (down -3.6%)
- Insulated wire/cable: $3.7 billion (down -13.8%)
- Electric water heaters, hair dryers: $2.4 billion (down -0.5%)
- Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $2.3 billion (down -20.2%)
- Electrical converters/power units: $2.1 billion (down -7.9%)
- Electric storage batteries: $1.8 billion (down -5.1%)
- Integrated circuits/microassemblies: $1.8 billion (down -2.7%)
- Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels: $1.6 billion (down -16.8%)
- Unrecorded sound media: $1.5 billion (down -20.5%)
All these major product categories decreased from 2019 to 2020. British purchases of electric water heaters and hair dryers (down -0.5%), integrated circuits or microassemblies (down -2.7%) then TV receivers, monitors and projectors (down -3.6%) declined at the slowest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported electronics among UK businesses and consumers.
See also United Kingdom’s Top 10 Exports, United Kingdom’s Top Trading Partners, UK’s Major Trade Balances with America, United Kingdom’s Top 10 Major Export Companies and United Kingdom’s Exported Services
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on February 21, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 21, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 21, 2021