Chart of the week: UK international trade

As 2021 draws to a close, our chart this week looks back on some difficult years for UK international trade which suffered the complications of Brexit and the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Our chart of the week illustrates how Brexit and COVID-19 combined to create a few tough years for UK exports and imports of goods and services, reflecting the trials and tribulations of the Brexit process as well as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on trade since the first containment last year.

Total monthly trade (exports + imports) increased from £ 92bn (£ 45bn + £ 47bn) in October 2014 to a peak of £ 123bn (£ 57bn + £ 65bn) in March 2019 at the height of ‘no deal’ Brexit preparations before falling back to £ 113bn (£ 54bn + £ 59bn) the following month before peaking again at £ 122 billion (£ 61 billion + £ 62 billion) as of October 2020 before the end of the transition period. Following the introduction of new trade deals and dwindling stocks, trade fell to a low of £ 86bn (£ 47bn + £ 39bn) in May 2020 during the first lockdown before to rise to £ 111 billion (£ 52 billion + £ 59 billion) in December 2020.

The graph only gives an overview of the challenges that importers and exporters have faced over the past two years as they have had to navigate new trade deals with our European neighbors just as the pandemic has caused massive disruption to across the planet. Imports and exports to EU countries have both declined, but the EU remains the UK’s main trading partner, accounting for almost half of UK merchandise trade for example.

The stabilization of trade flows in the last few months for which statistics are available may be an encouraging sign, but with the entry into force in January of increased customs controls on imports of goods from the United Kingdom and the development continuing pandemic, the position is still very uncertain.

This is our last graph of the week for 2021 and so we would like to take this opportunity to wish you all the best for a safe and enjoyable Christmas holiday and a healthy and prosperous 2022. We look forward to seeing you again in the New Year.