UK goods trade with EU signals recovery

LONDON — Exports of goods from the U.K. to the EU showed signs of a partial recovery in February, according to official statistics released Tuesday, though data has been muddied by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In February, exports to the EU increased by £3.7 billion (46.6 percent) after a record fall of £5.7 billion (negative 42 percent) in January, figures reported by the Office for National Statistics showed. 

However, exports were still significantly lower in February, compared to 2020, before the end of the Brexit transition period. Imports from the EU also picked up, though only slightly, increasing by £1.2 billion in February after a record drop of £6.7 billion in January.

Shipping data also suggested signs of a rebound in British trade. The seven-day average of daily shipping visits increased from 290 on January 31, 2021 to 344 on February 28, 2021, the ONS said. This was consistent with signals trade had recovered somewhat in February, it added.

“Exports to the EU recovered significantly from their January fall though still remain below 2020 levels,” an ONS spokesperson said, while imports are yet to “significantly rebound.”

It was still too early to draw concrete conclusions about the overall impact of Brexit on trade, statisticians warned. The ONS noted survey data suggesting businesses’ trading activities were being held back by Brexit frictions, such as extra paperwork and higher transportation costs.

Overall, the U.K. economy showed an improvement in February, with GDP growing 0.4 percent. Construction and manufacturing helped drive the return to growth, along with a small expansion, 0.2 percent, in the dominant services sector. 

However, while a return to growth is positive, it must be set against the wider economic rout triggered by the coronavirus. Economic output remained 7.8 percent below the pre-pandemic peak, the ONS said.



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