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UK Trade in Goods: A Comprehensive Review of 2023

6 min read
UK map in green with arrow pointing towards the UK

UK Trade in Goods: A Comprehensive Review of 2023

The year 2023 marked a significant period for UK trade, characterised by notable shifts in trade volumes and impacted by the interplay of volatile pricing trends and geopolitical events.

Drawing on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) report: UK Trade In Goods, Year In Review: 2023 released on 1 March 2024, this analysis delves into the key statistics and trends that defined UK international trade in goods over the past year, with a particular focus on the transportation of food, a sector of significant interest to many ChannelPorts customs clearance customers.

Key Highlights and Statistics

Overall Trade Volume: The UK experienced a downturn in trade volumes in 2023, with total goods imports decreasing by £52.2 billion (8.2%) and exports falling by £17.4 billion (4.4%) compared to 2022. This decline was largely driven by reduced trade in fuels.

Inflation-Adjusted Trade Volume: Adjusting for inflation, goods imports saw a £37.8 billion (7.4%) reduction, and exports decreased by £15.2 billion (4.6%) in 2023, indicating the significant impact of inflation on trade volumes.

Stability in EU Imports: Goods imported from the EU showed relative stability throughout the year, contrasting with a significant drop in imports from non-EU countries.

Narrowing Trade Balance: The trade balance in goods narrowed by £34.8 billion compared to 2022, highlighting a shift towards a less deficit-heavy trade position.

Impact of Volatile Pricing: Since 2018, nominal trade values had been on an upward trend, but inflation-adjusted figures from 2023 reveal a contraction in trade volumes, highlighting the substantial influence of recent price volatility on UK trade.

Fuel Trade Dynamics: The trade of fuels witnessed a pronounced decline in value in 2023 due to decreasing gas and oil prices, though prices remained above historical lows, continuing to influence the broader commodity market.

Sectoral Insights

Beyond fuels and food, miscellaneous manufactures, especially from non-EU countries, experienced a decline in both nominal and real terms, reflecting shifts in global trade patterns and consumer demand.

Analysis of Food Trade

The trading of food and live animals is a critical component of UK trade, warranting a closer examination:

Value and Volume Discrepancies: In 2023, the UK saw an increase in the nominal value of food and live animal imports by £3.5 billion (7.2%) compared with 2022, largely due to increased imports from the EU. However, when adjusted for inflation, the volume of imports actually decreased, indicating the impact of rising costs.

Comparative Analysis: Compared to 2018, the nominal value of food imports in 2023 increased significantly by £11.8 billion (29.2%), yet, the inflation-adjusted volume of trade shows a marked decrease, underscoring the challenges posed by inflation and cost increases in the sector.

Exports Dynamics: Exports of food and live animals also saw a slight increase in nominal terms by £0.8 billion (5.0%) from 2022 to 2023, reflecting the resilience and adaptability of the sector amidst challenging market conditions.

From January 1, 2022, the UK set up strict border rules for all goods, including food and live animals, coming in or going out to the EU, as mentioned in the UK’s New Plan With The EU on the GOV.UK site.

Meanwhile, Russia’s attack on Ukraine greatly affected Ukraine’s ability to sell its food. This issue, along with higher fuel costs, led to more expensive food and animal imports in the UK in 2022. Food prices kept rising in 2023, making the UK one of the countries with the highest food cost increase among the G7 nations in March 2023, as noted in a report about Food And Energy Price Inflation in the UK.

Because living costs went up, families in the UK cut down on buying food and going out to eat, in March 2023, food prices were at their highest, as seen on the governments Cost of Living Tracker about food costs. At the same time, the amount of food the UK got from the EU, when considering price changes, was at its lowest point.

Concluding Insights

The year 2023 was marked by significant challenges and transformations in UK trade, with the interplay of volatile pricing and geopolitical events reshaping trade dynamics. The detailed statistics and trends from the ONS report underscore the importance of understanding these shifts, particularly in sectors like food, which are vital to the broader trade ecosystem.

For further exploration and in-depth analysis, the full report UK trade in goods, year in review: 2023 provides a comprehensive overview of the year’s trade activities, offering valuable insights for stakeholders across the industry. 

It also includes an interactive tool to explore UK trade in goods country-by-commodity data, allowing a better understanding of what goods the UK traded by specific countries as well as a very helpful glossary.

Key Takeaways for Logistics and Export/Import Managers and those involved in UK Customs Clearance

Related Links

UK trade: December 2023
Impact of trade in goods data collection changes on UK trade statistics
Focus on UK trade
The impact of sanctions on UK trade with Russia: November 2022
Trends in UK imports and exports of fuels
What did the UK trade with Ukraine in 2021?

This comprehensive review, grounded in the latest ONS data, offers a deep dive into the complexities of UK trade in goods in 2023, with a particular emphasis on the pivotal role of food trade within the trade matrix.

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