UK's stubborn trade deficit shrinks slightly, poor exports despite a weaker pound suggest it isn't going away soon

 
Jake Cordell
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The UK has been sending less goods around the world, as the trade deficit remains stubbornly high
The UK has been sending less goods around the world, as the trade deficit remains stubbornly high (Source: Getty)

Britain's trade deficit narrowed by a miniscule amount in February 2016, nowhere near enough to allay concerns about a failure to rebalance the economy and increase sales of British products around the world.

The deficit - the difference between imports and exports - came in at £4.8bn in February, shrinking slightly from an eye-watering £5.2bn in January.

Exports of both goods and services crept up over the month, with the total amount Britain sold overseas coming in at £42bn in February. However, this was unchanged from the same month last year, bringing into question the success of the government’s exports drive.

The government wants to double the value of British exports to £1 trillion by the end of the decade. However, since 2011, exports have only increased by two per cent and currently stand at £511m.

“Trade figures suggest that the UK’s economic recovery remains extremely unbalanced,” said Samuel Tombs at chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

The UK’s “extraordinary thirst for imports”, Tombs said, had also held back a further shrinking of the deficit.

Sterling saviour?

With the pound trading at a 30-month low against a basket of currencies, however, all hopes for an improvement anytime soon have been placed on currency weakness spurring demand.

"The hope has to be that UK exporters will increasingly be helped by the recent substantial weakening of the pound," Howard Archer of IHS Global said

“In spite of the small improvement in February, the latest figures are disappointing,” David Kern chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce said.

Read more: UK exports are struggling

“These figures reinforce our view that much more is needed to boost our export performance. This must include a greater emphasis on helping firms to break into new markets.”

The total amount of goods sold to countries outside the EU slipped by three per cent over the year.

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