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Despite 19% US spurt, EU still takes 46% of UK's goods exports

10 September, 2020

The US was the biggest single export market for UK manufacturers in 2019 – with sales expanding by 19% to reach £54.4bn – but almost half of the UK’s exports (46%) went to Europe, with the top six EU markets accounting for around a third of total exports, worth £169bn. The figures come from UK Manufacturing Facts, 2020/21, just published by the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK and Santander UK.

According to the research, the UK’s global exports in manufactured goods stood at £367bn last year. While the US was the single largest importer of UK-produced goods, the next three were Germany, France and Ireland. China, ranked fifth, was the only other destination in the top ten for UK goods outside of Europe and the US.

Exports to the top six European markets – including The Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium – were worth £117.4bn in 2019.

“These figures lay bare the overwhelming importance for manufacturers of trade with our closest market and the need to avoid imposing any barriers which will make this more difficult,” comments Make UK’s chief executive, Stephen Phipson. “Whilst the United States remains the biggest market and presents significant opportunities for export growth, it is a fallacy to believe that geography is not the biggest factor driving trade. For UK manufacturers, access to their biggest market must be a premium.

“The figures also provide an important reminder that we’re still one of the top ten biggest manufacturing nations and we want to see policy-makers working with industry to help move UK manufacturing up the rankings,” Phipson adds.

The research shows that the UK retained its position as the world’s ninth largest manufacturer, and tenth largest exporter, with output totalling £191bn – a growth of 7% over the past five years.

The data, gathered before the Coronavirus outbreak, shows that goods accounted for 53% of the UK’s exports compared to 47% for services, while manufacturing accounted for 66% of the UK’s total expenditure on r&d and 16% of its business investment.

The data also reveals that the average salary of the 2.7 million people working in UK manufacturing was £34,538 – 13% higher than the UK average.

UK's top 10 export destinations for manufactured goods including food and beverage (figures in £m)
Source: UK Trade Info / Make UK

While the North West remains the largest region for manufacturing output (worth £27.2bn), London (£8.2bn) and the South East (£22.5bn) are expanding, with the South East increasing its output by almost 6% over the past five years. The report attributes this to the heavy concentration of electronics-related activities (worth £4.7bn) in the South East, which has benefitted from the drive towards digital technologies and automation – a trend which the pandemic is thought to have accelerated.

The Make UK/Santander data shows that transport manufacturing was the largest export sector (22%) and also generated the most in terms of r&d (36.4%). Food and drink was the leading sector in terms of output (17% of the total).

According to Make UK, the high r&d spend in the transport sector highlights the critical importance of the automotive and aerospace sectors to the long-term high-value growth of the UK economy, despite the major impact of the pandemic on these sectors.

“Our manufacturers have shown unyielding resilience over recent months,” comments Paul Brooks, UK head of manufacturing at Santander UK. “Retaining our position as the ninth leading manufacturer makes it clear that the UK is still a major player on the international stage, but we must not rest on our laurels. This data underlines the importance of prioritising manufacturing as the UK establishes new trading relationships with partners around the world.”




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