The trade gap: good news or bad?

There’s some good news and some bad news concerning the balance of payments, according to figures just released. First the good: the trade in goods and services deficit narrowed from £4.89bn in August to £4.57bn in September; and the trade in goods deficit narrowed from £8.47bn to £8.23bn. Now the bad: the trade in goods and services deficit rose from £12.63bn in quarter 2 to £14.28bn in quarter 3 and the trade in goods deficit rose from £19.72bn to £21.33bn over the same period.

This is worrying as the recovery depends to a large part on a recovery in exports. These rose by only 1.36% from quarter 2 to quarter 3, whereas imports rose by 3.33%. And this is despite a fall in the exchange rate of the pound against the UK’s trading partners over the past four years. Looking at the quarter 3 figures, the exchange rate index was 104.3 in 2007, 91.6 in 2008, 82.9 in 2009 and 81.8 in 2010. What is also worrying is a very modest rise in manufacturing output.

UK’s September trade deficit smallest since June BBC News (9/11/10)
Record trade deficit for UK Guardian, Larry Elliott (9/11/10)
Britain’s trade gap: What the economists say Guardian (9/11/10)

UK Trade National Statistics
Statistical Bulletin: UK Trade September 2010 National Statistics
United Kingdom Balance of Payments – The Pink Book National Statistics (Balance of payments data going back many years)
Statistical Interactive Database: Effective exchange rates Bank of England


  1. How is a depreciation of its currency likely to affect a country’s balance of payments?
  2. What are the requirements for the UK to achieve an export-led recovery?
  3. Why did the UK’s balance of trade deteriorate between Q2 and Q3 of 2010?
  4. How might supply-side policy affect the balance of trade?
  5. What determines the income elasticity of demand for (a) UK imports; (b) UK exports?