This House of Lords Library briefing examines the trade relationship between the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries. It provides a brief overview of UK trade, including information on its largest export market and largest source of imports. It then discusses Commonwealth trade, focussing on intra-Commonwealth trade. Finally it examines UK-Commonwealth trade relations and summarises a range of recent statements and commentary pertaining to the future of those trade relationships in the context of the European Union referendum result.Jump to full report >>
In 2015, the UK exported £512 billion of goods and services and imported a total of £548 billion. Consequently, the UK had a trade deficit of £37 billion. The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner. In 2015, 44 percent of the UK’s goods and services were exported to the EU, while 53 percent of the UK’s imports came from the EU. The value of the UK’s trade deficit with the EU was £68 billion. In 2015, the UK had a trade surplus in goods and services worth £31 billion with non-EU countries. The UK exported goods and services valued at £288 billion, while its imports were worth £257 billion. In terms of trade with individual countries, the UK’s largest export market in 2014 was the US, to which UK exports totalled £84 billion. Germany was the largest source of imports into the UK in 2014, with the UK importing £69.8 billion of goods and services.
The Commonwealth Secretariat reports that in 2013, the total global exports of goods and services of the 53 Commonwealth members were valued at $3.4 trillion, which it stated was about 15 percent of the world’s total exports. Intra-Commonwealth trade of goods and services totalled $592 billion in 2013. The total of intra-Commonwealth trade as a share of the Commonwealth’s total global trade increased from 13 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2013. The Secretariat estimates that this trade had increased to $687 billion in 2015 and projects it to exceed $1 trillion by 2020.
UK-Commonwealth Trade Relations
In 2014, total UK exports to Commonwealth countries were worth £48 billion, approximately 9 percent of the UK’s total exports worldwide. Imports from the Commonwealth were £47 billion, also around 9 percent of the UK total. The UK has had a trade surplus with the Commonwealth since 2011. In the context of the EU referendum, some commentators have suggested that an exit from the EU would enable the UK to establish bilateral agreements with countries such as India, Australia and New Zealand. Following the referendum result, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, has argued that the Commonwealth will become “more pivotally important that it has ever been”. However, she cautioned that the UK’s relationship with Commonwealth countries will be a “modern one”, where all partners will be “equals”.
Lords Library notes LLN-2016-0043
Author: Sarah Tudor
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