The UK economy is likely to have made a record $18.8bn of trade in the first nine months of the year, which would make 2019 the biggest year ever recorded for the UK overseas.
Figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics show UK exports of goods rose by 8.2 per cent in 2018 and are expected to have risen further to $18.8bn by the end of January, the quickest increase since 1998.
This “exports acceleration”, according to UK Trade & Investment, part of the Department for International Trade, is part of a wider trend in which exports are now being driven by a narrowing pool of potential customers rather than growth in existing markets.
For example, the share of UK exports going to the EU was slightly higher at 56 per cent than for non-EU products at 45 per cent.
But given the British-dominated base, there is still substantial potential in newly established markets for UK goods and services. For example, there is also very little UK export to the African countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
However, while exports to non-EU countries grew at a faster pace than in the EU, these accounted for just 16 per cent of total UK exports.
The surge in UK exports is continuing, at least until the end of the year, and the UK is particularly focused on higher value goods. So export volumes have been growing on average 4.8 per cent per month since the start of November 2018.
UK exports in 2017 amounted to £151.3bn. This year’s exports are forecast to grow by 7.5 per cent, which would put it well ahead of any previous year in data going back to 1970, with the closest record-breaking competition for this year likely to be the 6.8 per cent record set in 2015.
But UK exports have not been immune to pressures elsewhere in the global economy, which was the case for 2018. The latest data showed exports to the EU, which make up just over half of total UK exports, fell by 0.2 per cent, while non-EU imports were up by 3.8 per cent over the period.
A further part of the growth of UK exports in 2018 was due to price fluctuations, although these appeared to have had a greater effect on exports to the EU than they did on exports to other countries.
Imports of goods from the EU were up 7.7 per cent over the first nine months of the year, while imports from other countries were up 6.1 per cent.