Britain’s trade deficit grew in September to stand at £2.8bn, but the gap between imports and exports of goods and services has remained broadly stable throughout 2014.
The deficit rose from £1.8bn in August reflecting a deterioration in both EU and non-EU trade in goods, while Britain’s surplus in services trade continued.
The smooth pattern of trade deficits this year suggests that although Britain’s healthy recovery is not pulling in ever growing volumes of imports, overseas trade is not contributing to the upswing in growth.
The deterioration in September’s monthly trade balance was mostly caused by a reversal of the previous month’s drop in imports of erratic items such as works of art and jewellery. The Office for National Statistics said that in September the UK posted a record level of imports of such miscellaneous items.
Over the third quarter as a whole, the trade deficit widened to £7.5bn from £6.5bn in the second quarter, but was significantly better than a year earlier. The modest quarterly deterioration was dominated by an increase in the import of oil, which now appears to be on a declining trend.
Maeve Johnston, of Capital Economics, said the figures showed that the UK recovery remained led by domestic spending and investment. “Over the third quarter as a whole, the deficit widened . . . so net trade was probably a drag on quarterly growth,” she said.
But many economists remarked that the bigger trend was stability in the trade numbers. Alan Clarke, of Scotiabank, said: “You get one good month, one bad month, one good month and so on. There has been no change in the trend – net trade has contributed very little to growth of late and there is little sign of that changing any time soon.”
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