What Britain exports: the ultimate chart

What Britain exports: the ultimate chart
Britain’s key exports. These are the main categories of exports where Britain has a surplus in trade. Goods categories are denoted in italics. Source: ONS

What does Britain actually export? It’s a question that’s often asked of me, since the conventional wisdom is that because the UK no longer has a large metal-bashing manufacturing sector, it no longer has the wherewithal to compete on the international stage.

And while Britain has indeed been stuck in a trade deficit almost permanently since the 1950s, the reality is that there are still some areas where the country competes overseas. For instance, the UK is currently a net car exporter (well, it exported £8m more cars than it imported in the year to Q3 2012). It comfortably exports more chemicals, booze and cigarettes overseas than it imports.

The pie chart above, which I’ve assembled from official UK trade data, with the kind assistance of the people at the ONS assembles all of the main categories of goods and services where Britain has a trade surplus. The goods categories are in italics and, as you can see, are completely outnumbered by the services sector.

So, for instance, compare the £8m surplus in trade of cars with the £1.9bn surplus in trade of royalties and license fees. And the revenue from exports of computing and information services was significantly greater than the revenue from Britain’s biggest net export, chemicals.

I’ve seen plenty of charts and graphics looking purely at the goods trade position but nothing examining the trade balance in terms both of goods and services. So the above is my attempt. One key proviso is that this only looks at those sectors in which the UK is a net exporter. So although Britain exports a lot of oil, because it currently imports more than it exports, it does not feature in the pie.