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UK trade: China imports up staggering 65% post Brexit, while EU countries plummet – data

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The UK’s top five import partners have seen drastic changes from the first quarter in 2018 to the first quarter in 2021. Imports from China into the UK have soared over the past three years, supposing Germany to become the UK’s biggest import market. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows Chinese imports have increased by 65.6 percent from the first quarter in 2018 to the first quarter in 2021, while EU imports have taken a dive.

The ONS said: “The recent increase in imports from China shows a continuation of the long-term trend of increasing imports since the beginning of records in 1997 although this was accelerated during the second half of 2020, likely because of the relatively limited impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Chinese exports.”

They explain certain “commodities” produced by China like “electronic machinery” explains the increase in 2020.

And the pandemic has driven demand for “face masks and personal protective equipment.”

Gayle Allard, a professor of economics at IE University in Spain, said: “It’s hard to make definite conclusions from a year during which the UK has experienced not only Brexit, but also the worst experience with the pandemic in Europe in terms of deaths per capita.

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“So we would need to watch the trends for another year at least to find ‘normal’ patterns.”

She added: “Initially, it looks like Brexit and the supply constraints coming from the pandemic have been very favourable for Chinese exports to the UK.

“Remember that after Brexit, EU products lost some of their cost advantage in the UK.”

While the pandemic originated in China, the country recovered relatively quickly, and in 2020 was the only major economy to see a growth in trade goods.

Breaking down imports in 2020, data from Trading Economics shows the biggest area electrical and electronic equipment at $16.78bn.

Next was machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers at $13.23bn, other made textile articles, sets, worn clothing at $5.26bn and furniture, lighting signs, prefabricated buildings at $4.28bn.

United Kingdom imports from China in 2020 according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade

  • Electrical, electronic equipment – $16.78bn (£12.07bn)
  • Machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers – $13.23bn (£9.51bn)
  • Other made textile articles, sets, worn clothing – $5.26bn (£3.78bn)
  • Furniture, lighting signs, prefabricated buildings – $4.28bn (£3.08bn)
  • Articles of apparel, not knit or crocheted – $4.27bn (£3.07bn)
  • Toys, games, sports requisites – $3.87bn (£2.78bn)
  • Plastics – $3.28bn (£2.36bn)
  • Optical, photo, technical, medical apparatus – $3.25bn (£2.34bn)
  • Articles of apparel, knit or crocheted – $1.93bn (£1.39bn)
  • Articles of iron or steel – $1.55bn (£1.11bn)

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While UK goods imports from China have increased by 65.6 percent, Germany, France, Netherlands and the USA have seen imports plummet.

As described by the ONS: “Imports from Germany have declined since April 2019, coinciding with increased uncertainty around EU exit and, later in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic.”.

Imports from the Netherlands have declined by 31 percent, followed by Germany with -26.8 percent, France at -27.2 percent and the United States with -16.7 percent.

The ONS said recent decline in imports from Germany “were driven by road vehicles…which decreased by £0.7 billion (47.7 percent) between December 2020 and January 2021”.

Now Britain has begun negotiations to join a trans-Pacific trade deal which it sees as crucial to its post-Brexit pivot away from Europe and towards geographically more distant but faster-growing economies.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) removes 95 percent of tariffs between its members.

These members are Japan, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, Chile and Malaysia.

Britain hopes to carve out a niche for itself in world trade as an exporter of premium consumer goods and professional services.

Accession to the pact would supplement trade deals London is seeking or has already agreed, with larger members.

Trade minister Liz Truss said: “This part of the world is where Britain’s greatest opportunities lie.

We left the EU with the promise of deepening links with old allies and fast-growing consumer markets beyond Europe.

“It is a glittering post-Brexit prize that I want us to seize.”

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