The total value of goods trade (both imports and exports) between the UK and non-EU countries exceeded that of EU countries in the first quarter of 2021, while China overtook Germany to become the largest source of imports to the UK, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It is the first time since records began that China has overtaken Germany as the UK's largest single import market.
The Office for National Statistics said the UK has imported more goods from China than from any other country since the second quarter of 2020 (April to June), and the trend has been rising. Imports from China accounted for 16.1% of the UK's total imports in the first quarter of this year, compared with the first quarter of 2018, and rose 66% to 16.9 billion pounds (U$ 24 billion).
At the same time, the total value of goods trade between the UK and the EU (both imports and exports) fell by 23.1%, with imports from Germany also down by a quarter ($12.5bn); Trade with countries outside the European Union fell just 0.8% over the same period.
According to the report, the main reasons for this change are Brexit, which reduces the import of goods from Europe. Second, the global outbreak of COVID-19 has depressed the economies of various countries, while China still maintains a growth rate (18.3%) in the epidemic, which stimulates the demand for Chinese goods in the UK.
Data also show that the UK has increased demand for Chinese textiles used in the manufacture of face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, with large imports of textiles for face masks and other personal protective equipment from China. In addition, the demand for electronic devices has increased.
The report, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), is designed to assess the impact of Brexit and novel coronavirus on the trade of British goods. The survey shows that, except for six months at the end of 2000 and the beginning of 2001, Germany has been the UK's main import market, but since April 2019, the volume of UK imports to Germany has declined. This coincides with increased uncertainty caused by Brexit and the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.