Expecting too much from Exports

The pound is regarded as an international currency, but its value has been declining throughout the financial crisis. Indeed, this downward trend is one of the factors that has prevented the recession in the UK from getting worse. As the exchange rate changes, the relative competitiveness of a country’s products changes and this therefore affects exports and imports.

However, despite a declining pound, exports from the UK have fallen and this has contributed to an unexpected global goods trade deficit in January of nearly £8 billion – the largest level since August 2008 and well above the forecast of £7 billion. This is putting further pressure on the pound. A key to the UK’s economic recovery was argued to be growth in exports, but this now appears to be a somewhat forlorn hope. The figures released show that exports slumped 6.9% to £19.5 billion in January, whilst imports only fell by 1.6%. A contributing factor might be the bad weather that hit the UK in January, but the long-term decline of manufacturing in Britain has also been put forward as a reason.

The following articles consider the UK’s trade deficit and the possibility of an export-led recovery.


January trade deficit widens as exports fall Guardian, Kathryn Hopkins (9/3/10)
UK trade gap widens to worst in 17 months BBC News (9/3/10)
Exports plunge heaps pressure on pound Independent (9/3/10)
Pound slides back against dollar and euro Guardian, Ashley Seager (21/9/09)
Trade gap widens despite weak pound Financial Times (9/3/10)
UK exports plunge by £1.4 billionThe Press Association (9/3/10)
Pound falls again on deficit fears Guardian (9/3/10)
UK trade gap widens as exports sink Wall Street Journal, Nicholas Winning (9/3/10)
Rebalancing, deferred BBC News blogs, Stephanomics Stephanie Flanders (9/3/10)
Global recovery is helping UK, says Bank of England’s Sentance Guardian, Larry Elliott (18/3/10)
Pound Declines as Investors Bet Bank of England Will Hold Rates BusinessWeek, Lukanyo Mnyanda (20/3/10)


For UK balance of trade data, see UK Trade (Office for National Statstics)
For exchange rate data, see Statistical Interactive Database (Bank of England)


  1. How is the value of the pound determined?
  2. Illustrate a depreciation of the pound on a diagram. What are the factors that could cause this?
  3. When the value of the pound falls, why should UK goods become more competitive?
  4. Explain why an export-led recovery was a possibility for the UK economy. How can we use the transmission mechanisms to help explain this?
  5. Despite a weak pound, exports have fallen. What are the explanations for this?
  6. What are the consequences of a widening trade deficit and how can it be tackled?