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UK Trade Falls In September As Global Economy Falters

Reacting to the ONS trade data for Q3 and September 2023, William Bain, BCC Head of Trade Policy, said:

“Economic woes at home and abroad are weighing heavily upon UK trade. September saw substantial falls in both imports and exports. Total goods trade values across Q3 this year also showed a significant drop on the previous quarter.

“Some of this can be put down to volatility in European and global markets in trade in fuels, but there was also a decline in other goods categories.

“The bright spot in the figures was growth in services trade, it continues to lead the way for the UK. Export volumes were 11% above pre-pandemic levels. They continued to grow in Q3 this year – contributing to a narrowing of the UK trade deficit, but the momentum from 2022 has slowed significantly.

“The BCC’s 2023 Trade Manifesto sets out a range of proposals to help shift the dial on trade. These include the creation of a new Exports Council and upscaling the UK’s green and digital trade performance.

“As International Trade Week draws to a close, policymakers would do well to study our findings to help UK traders – coping with difficult domestic and global economic conditions.”

The UK trade picture in detail

ONS data for September 2023 revealed falls in both goods exports and imports, after removing the effects of inflation. On the current prices measures, there were also declines. On trade in services, import volumes were static in September, with a small drop in services exports volumes.

Goods Imports

Overall goods imports volumes fell by 5.7% (£2.3bn) in September. Trade with the EU suffered with declines of 4.2% in goods imports volumes.

There were falls across a wide range of imported products, including machinery, cars and transport equipment, chemicals, and other manufactured goods.

On the current prices measure, EU import values fell by £1.4bn (5.3%). Import values from the rest of the world fell by £1.5bn (7.4%).

Goods imports volumes from the rest of the world fell by 7.7% (£1.3bn) driven by reduced gas and oil imports from Norway. Fuel import volumes from the rest of the world declined by 20.1%.

Goods Exports

Overall goods exports fell by 2.1% (£0.6bn) in September. On sales to the EU, fluctuations in fuel contributed significantly to the decline of 3.4% in volumes. Goods exports volumes to the rest of the world fell by 0.9% (£0.1bn), with flows of pharmaceutical products to the US being particularly affected.

On the current prices measure, without inflationary effects being removed, EU goods export values fell by £0.5bn (3.1%). Non-EU goods export values fell by £0.4bn (2.7%).


On services, import volumes in September, excluding inflation, remained static, while export volumes fell by 0.1%. On the current prices measure, there were falls in services import values of 0.2% and in export values of 0.4% over the month.